Today we recall two lawgiving rulers, one Egyptian and one Italian, one who was wicked and one who is good. This morning we hear of Pharaoh, who oppressed the Israelites, and we celebrate St. Benedict, who is called the founder of Western monasticism.
When Pharaoh saw the growing demographics of the children of Israel, he saw them as a threat and devised a new social strategy. Pharaoh had the Israelites enslaved and ordered that their male babies be sacrificed to Hapy, the fertility god of the River Nile. This would then force Israeli young women to take Egyptian husbands. In this way, if everything went according to plan, after a few generations of cultural assimilation, the children of Israel would be effectively no more.
St. Benedict, for his part, also established new laws over those he governed. His “Rule of St. Benedict” has directed the spirituality and administration of Benedictine monastic life for more than fifteen hundred years. Both Benedict and Pharaoh were shrewd men, clever and astute about practical matters like human behavior, but Pharaoh’s strategy was evil and failed while St. Benedict’s was good and still endures. Both men had intelligence, but only one had wisdom.
Pharaoh and St. Benedict demonstrate that intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom, that being clever is not the same thing as being good. Just because we know how to do something doesn’t mean we should. We see this in science, which teaches us how to do certain things, but which (of itself) cannot tell us whether we should. Governments can pass new laws, but that does not mean that all laws are just or serve the common good. Intelligence without wisdom is almost a curse. The devil is a brilliant creature, but he is without wisdom.
Where do we find wisdom? We find it in Jesus Christ, who presents Himself as the definitive prophet and righteous man, who presents His life as our pattern to follow. Whoever receives Him receives wisdom, and will receive wisdom’s reward.