Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 20, 2014
Wisdom 12.13, 16-19 | Psalm 86 | Romans 8.26-27 | Matthew 13.24-43

Ralph Himsl

July 7, 2014

In Litany for Dictatorships, the poet Stephen Vincent Benet writes of a dictator ruminating on the miseries his kind have laid on the world. Near the conclusion of this sordid list, Benet's narrator confesses an insight: "We thought because we had power, we had wisdom."

I can't escape the irony of the fancy that came to me following my reading of that epigram: Had I the power, I would have that sentence rendered in a bronze plaque suitable for placement on the walls of every office across the nation.

But without thinking about the subject as did Benet's dictator, the possibility of mixing the two, power and the presumption of wisdom comes easily.

The confusion can plod across the entire spectrum of human behaviour, from the intimacy of human relations such as the rude disciplining of a child to the grotesque actions such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Because it works we think it must be right.

The exercise of power, as we usually construe it, requires force, the willingness to use it and a belief in its propriety. In such settings, preparations for action drown out the sounds of Wisdom knocking at the door.


How different the manifestations of power as described in today's First Reading. Here we learn of power marked by the sublime characteristics of mildness, forbearance, kindness and righteousness.

You show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power. - Wisdom 12.17

'You show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power.'

Wisdom 12.17

At the same time our reading has a needless caution which, in my view, detracts from the otherwise simple beauty of the discussion. It reminds us of the limitless power of God: "For you have power to act whenever you choose."

That last sentence implies that God would act in other ways should he so choose. Rather, I like to think that God acts in the manner described – with forbearance and mildness because of his nature and the nature of his power. Do I think he could do no other?

Our times with all of their troubles do have the blessing of people shining in their use of power in just these ways. A briefest search of memory readily discovers exemplars: Jean Vanier, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu.


I wish I knew enough of the lives of our contemporary politicians, statesmen and people of accomplishment to tell of their exercise of power marked by the mildness, kindness and forbearance treasured in this text. No doubt they behave that way on many occasions.

Except for tributes paid at the time of retirements or eulogies at funerals, the hurly-burly of public life often hides their benign acts or disparages them with small-minded criticisms.


Many people will have the good fortune of knowing one such as I know – one whose power-filled personality will not permit the utterance of a harming, hurtful remark about another – whose conduct teaches "that the righteous must be kind."

At the same time, the whole world sees today's lesson in the courage of Pope Francis and his wise use of power graced with simplicity.

(Ralph Himsl: luimeme@telusplanet.net)