09/23/18 – Wisdom with Love


September 23, 2018
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


Today we continue our reading from the book of Proverbs, one of the books of the Old Testament called “Wisdom Literature.” Some biblical scholars don’t think the lectionary should use this passage. It seems so out of date, so very patriarchal. Furthermore, it is used by people who believe in the theology of “complementarianism” which is a fancy term for the belief that men and women have different but “complementary” roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere. You will find this in Orthodox Judaism, Islam and many Christian denominations. For example, The PCA, the Presbyterian Church in America, which broke off from the PCUSA, our denomination, is complementarian. Women are not allowed to be ministers or elders. This is also true of the Southern Baptist Church. Women are considered helpmates to men, but only the men are allowed positions of leadership and decision-making. Women’s roles may be complementary to men’s, but the roles are not equal.

These complementarians use passages such as Proverbs 31, to support their position. Proverbs was written somewhere around 3000 years ago; and, we must take its historical context into consideration. However, I think there are some lessons to be learned from this poem.

First, the wife who is the subject of this passage is not your typical woman of antiquity. She is obviously wealthy. She has servants, she buys real estate and conducts business. She and her family wear fine linen and purple, a dye that was the most expensive at that time. To this day, it is true that people have more power and privileges if they have wealth, regardless of their gender or ethnicity.

Secondly, I think it is important to note that her physical attractiveness is not mentioned at all. Today, women are still objectivized, and their worth judged by their attractiveness – including business and government. This passage tells us that being wise does not include shallow judgments of women based on what they look like. A woman’s value is in her character, not her face and body. The wife is also praised for her intelligence, her skills, her work ethic, and her bravery. And, this is important, she is praised for her compassion for and generosity to the poor and needy. Wisdom requires compassion.

Lastly, here is another gem. A Biblical commentator described an experience he had with a guest lecturer in a freshman religion class. A local rabbi came to talk about Jewish wedding and wedding customs. “Each Sabbath evening,” he told us, “I recite the poem in Proverbs 31 to my wife. It begins ‘A good wife who can find…’ and ends with the husband addressing his wife directly, in a ‘you’ statement: Suddenly, after referring to the wife in the third person, in verse 29 the author wrote:

Many women have done excellently,
But you surpass them all.

The rabbi told the class: “This meant that once a week, after reciting an alphabet full of statements about your good wife, you look her in the eyes and switch to a “you” statement saying, in effect, “There are lots of great women around. But you’re the best of them all!”

Complimenting your spouse, male or female, and telling them how much you appreciate them is a wise practice for any marriage.

In our epistle lesson, James is again talking about wisdom. This time he is focusing on wisdom in leadership. James looks at the attributes of a leader who leads with Godly wisdom and one who leads according to worldly wisdom. Throughout James, “the world” and God are contrasted.  In James 3, wise leadership is “pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (v.17). Those who lead by worldly wisdom have bitter envy and selfish ambition.” They are “boastful and false to the truth.” (v.14)

The description of the leader as “wise and understanding” echoes the description of the leaders of the tribes of Israel in who would take over from Moses (Deuteronomy 1:13, 15). It also describes the entire people of Israel, insofar as they observe the commandments of God (Deuteronomy 4:6). Since the works of such a leader are to be done in “the gentleness of wisdom” (James 3:13), James proceeds to describe the qualities of this heavenly wisdom, or “wisdom from above” (3:17): “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, reasonable, obedient, full of mercy and of good fruits, impartial, sincere.” In short, according to James, godly leaders make peace (3:18). They do not create conflict or divisiveness.

In our gospel passage, Jesus is teaching his disciples. He repeats his message that he must die and be raised again. This time his disciples don’t ask questions. Mark tells us they did not understand and were afraid to ask. Sounds like my year in high school pre-Calculus. Why were they afraid to ask? Perhaps because they didn’t really want to hear the answer. If Jesus were to leave them, they would be left with the responsibility of fulfilling Christ’s mission on earth. They would be responsible for caring for their neighbors and spreading the gospel. Following behind the one doing it was so much easier.

Instead, they argue about who is the greatest among the disciples. Now they are back in the realm of worldly thoughts and values that James warned about. Jesus said:

          “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

When we welcome the most marginalized people, which were children in antiquity, we are welcoming Jesus. Think about that.

What questions are we afraid to ask because we don’t really want to know the answers. What would Jesus do based on what we read in the gospels? Might be one of them. What questions should we expect our elected leaders ask? What would Jesus, who said he who welcomes the little child welcomes me think about separating children from their parents without any plan to reunite them? Would that be wise? How about the wisdom of farming out nearly 1500 immigrant children since 2016 to sponsors and then lose track of them as our government recently admitted? Sending multiple unrelated children to sponsors is a red flag for human trafficking, but those red flags were not heeded. This is not wise, nor is it just or compassionate or merciful. From what worldly pseudo-wisdom might James be calling the church to repent? How might we, the Church, draw nearer to God?

Wisdom is knowledge acquired through the eyes of love. This holy wisdom is expressed in actions that make for holy living. James puts it in a nutshell: Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.

All power, honor, and glory to our Triune God.


the news comes on the radio; the reporter tells of record numbers of migrant children being kept in detention and “overwhelming the system.” Maybe I should speak up, ask questions, demand answers, do something born of gentleness and mercy until wisdom, understanding and welcome win. Wouldn’t that be great?



© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
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