Wisdom and Thanks: A Reflection on the Lectionary Readings for 19 August 2012

Revised Common Lectionary Page for 19 August 2012 (Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B)

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 and Psalm 111  • Proverbs 9:1-6 and Psalm 34:9-14  • Ephesians 5:15-20  • John 6:51-58

It’s the place of wisdom in the Bible that makes me appreciate Walter Brueggemann the way I do and reminds me to hold my systematic theology loosely.

When Paul addresses the “evil days” in which believers live, his advice is not to be asophia but sophia, and like so many of Paul’s key words, it’s hard to say where one should dive in contemplating it.  Certainly it’s a reminder to remember Lady Hokhma from Proverbs, who calls out in the marketplace, offering a good life to any who would take it, even as Lady Folly (I can’t remember the Hebrew for that one, which should say something about my study habits) calls to the same passers-by.  It’s the valuable hidden stuff of the created order that Job 28 sings, like a vein of silver of which even the most skillful predators in the animal kingdom remain unaware.  It’s the beginning of knowledge in Proverbs and the counsel of the righteous in the Psalms.

But contrary to some readers of the New Testament, I think it’s also the friendship that leads to goodness in Plato, the skill in good living in Aristotle, the tempering of desires in the Stoics and Epicureans.  Wisdom has its roots in the old Egyptians and the most current (for Paul) Academic philosophers, and its wide-based history makes it a perfect rallying cry for a movement of the gospel and of the Spirit, a gathering that includes Jew and Gentile, Greek and Scythian.  Wisdom arises when people sing for each other’s sake, instructing the young in rhyme even as we make melody for the LORD.  To seize the kairos, the opportune moment to speak truth to a hearer who needs to listen, means to avail oneself of all of the wisdom available.

Such is to be thankful for all things at all moments.  Wisdom will not allow for an uncritical adherence to any particular tradition, be that tradition Rabbinic or Hellenic, German or French or Russian.  Yet none of these things falls outside the project of the wise; because wisdom is always piecing together and sometimes letting one piece call another into question, because the wise person is the one who listens carefully and speaks truth as best as she knows the truth, Paul sets forth in this little passage in Ephesians (as he does in just about every little passage in Ephesians) a sweeping picture of the faithful Christian life.  And it’s no coincidence that, after this big-picture admonition to grab hold of the opportune moment, Paul launches into a series of exhortations to those living in the Ephesian moment, as subjects of an empire and masters and slaves and Roman heads of household and their families.  Always being thankful means always paying attention to the particular contours and oddities of one’s moment, and receiving them graciously means at the same time inviting them into a life of hope, standing in creative tension with and sometimes entirely against the systems that have received God’s gifts un-gratefully.

And thus is the Christian life, in six short verses.  May we seek wisdom, always give thanks, and live well and faithfully in the moment that the LORD has made.

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