What is it? And, oh, by the way, how can I get some?
In the mornings these days, the lectionary has led me to a place I probably wouldn’t have gone on my own. We’re reading our way through the apocryphal book called Ecclesiasticus. I don’t know much about the book, who wrote it and why. My Protestant upbringing did not include it in the Sunday School song which I was taught as a way to learn the books of the Bible. But the theme of the book so far seems to be wisdom, And I’m feeling, perhaps after watching too much news, that we all could use a little more wisdom.
The theme of wisdom is all over the place in many religious traditions. People everywhere need it. In our tradition, The Book of Proverbs in the Bible tells us that wisdom, a feminine presence, represented the power that created all things. In the gospel of John, Jesus is presented as the logos, or wisdom, of God.
Ecclesiasticus echoes words found in many parts of scripture: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I don’t know how you hear the word “fear”. Many people have been damaged in the faith journey by the image of a God who can’t wait to hurl lightning bolts when we step out of line. That image of God is included in the list of things I refuse to believe.
But there is a sense in which the fear of the Lord points us to a relationship with a God greater than ourselves, even beyond our understanding. Synonyms I would suggest are wonder, humility, reverence, and that word calling out for proper usage in our culture: Awesome. Wisdom begins with recognizing our own limits. Ecclesiasticus puts it this way: Do not meddle in what is beyond your tasks, for matters too great for human understanding have been shown you.
This reflection on wisdom began a few days ago when I read this line:
If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments, and the Lord will supply it for you. For the fear of the Lord is wisdom and instruction.
Three things occurred to me in reflection on these words:
First, I do indeed desire wisdom, for myself, for our church and for our nation in this election season. In my soul and in our common life, wisdom seems to be in short supply, as we seem to battle a wisdom deficit.
Second, the text tells me wisdom is available, accessible, as we keep the commandments. That may sound like wisdom comes from obeying a bunch of rules. But what if it means listening for teaching from a source greater than ourselves? What if it means letting our lives be guided by the commandments given by Jesus, the one we follow, the one to whom we look for wisdom? Jesus said the commandments are summed up in love of God and love of neighbor. What if I directed my life, this Monday, to walking in the way of those commandments, seeking that wisdom?
Third, the text tells us that wisdom is a gift. What if I came to see that the wisdom I desire, for myself and others, is a bit of grace itself. Am I open to receiving it? Will I ask for it, as Solomon did (see text below)? Am I ready to be taught?
Think about wisdom today. Who do you know who shows it? Ask that person how wisdom came to them?
Think about whether you desire wisdom. Are you and I open to its power in our lives?
Think about whether you might take a step today toward wisdom, in fear or reverence or recognition of the awesome God who calls us to this particularly wise way of life: Love of God and love of neighbor.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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