Wisdom. It’s a noble word, a strong word. Perhaps we associate wise people with the gift of discernment, with an accumulation of experience, or with a sharp mind. But do we think of wise people as gentle people? This is how the apostle James identifies the “wise and understanding”: they are those who act with the “gentleness of wisdom,” or the gentleness that is born from wisdom.
In his letter, James is worried about rancorous divisions in the church – conflicts caused by envy and ambition, by partiality to the rich and oppression of the poor, by anger and unbridled tongues. James steps into this strife with a word of peace. He instructs them to be gentle. James knows this is not the wisdom of the world. No, this is wisdom from above, God’s wisdom. This kind of wisdom creates peace rather than quarrels; it is forbearing and willing to yield. Imagine a church in which members who were angry at one another were willing to yield. Imagine an office or a household or a dorm room where wisdom meant gentleness toward one another when under stress. Timothy writes that we should correct our opponents with gentleness, in the hope that this will lead them to know the truth of Jesus Christ (2 Tim 2:25).
In fact, James’s description of wisdom in chapter 3 sounds strikingly similar to the apostle Paul’s description of agape, the Christ-like love that ought to characterize the body of Christ: love is patient and kind; it does not insist on its own way; it bears all things and hopes all things (1 Cor 13:4-7). This similarity between wisdom and love makes sense because wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit. For Christians, wisdom does not spring primarily from lots of experience or intellectual ability; it is a gift that comes down from above, from the Father of lights, the giver of all good gifts.
As a gift of the Holy Spirit, the gentleness of wisdom conforms us to Christ, who described himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt 11:29). In the gospel reading for today, Jesus overhears his disciples quarreling about which one of them was the greatest. He takes a child in his arms and declares that whoever wants to be first must be the last of all and the servant of all. And this is an apt description of Jesus, who although he was first over all creation, became the least so that he might open the door to salvation for us all.