08/15/21 – Where is Wisdom When You Need it?


August 15, 2021
12th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Ps.111; Eph. 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

In our Old Testament reading for today, we enter the story of Israel’s era of kings at the point where King David has just died and his son, Solomon, is poised to take the throne. Solomon was way down the list of heirs to the throne, but foolishness and violence brought them down one by one. After Absalom’s death, Adonijah, the next heir in line, claimed the throne. However, Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother reminded David that he had promised to make Solomon his successor. Solomon’s rise to the throne was as bloody as his father’s. Solomon made sure his brother, Adonijah, would not be a threat by having him killed. Solomon may have only been 20 years old, but he had already displayed the political prowess he had learned from his father. Like his father, Solomon was a complex character who struggled between faithfulness to God and the temptations of the world.

When he began his reign, Solomon did have the good sense to be daunted by kingship.  He realized he wasn’t mature or wise enough to lead Israel. In today’s Old Testament reading, the great responsibility of his position was obviously weighing heavily on his mind because he had an anxious dream. You know, the kind of dream where you replay a problem with which you are struggling or fear concerning the future. In his dream, God promised to grant Solomon one wish. That Solomon chose wisdom was a testament to his ability to make good judgments. But, as God had warned the Israelites when they first demanded a king, once having tasted that intoxicating nectar of power, the kings began to abuse that power.

In our translation, Solomon asked for “an understanding mind;” but, in the original Hebrew it also had the meaning of “a listening heart.” In the ancient world, the heart was the center of both intelligence and emotions. Wisdom was not cold, calculating logic, wisdom meant using mental acuity, sensitivity, and compassion.  God judged Israel by how well the Israelites and their leaders took care of the least of those in society, the most vulnerable – the widows, the orphans, the poor, the diseased, the foreigners among them.  Jesus told his disciples in his farewell address to his disciples that they would be judged by the same standard.  And so will we and our nation be judged. God gave Solomon the same assurance as he did his father, David.  God advised the young Solomon ‘Walk with me, follow my laws and listen to my words and you will be able to make wise decisions and even more.’

Ancient Israelites believed that sacred wisdom was present when the world was created, and wisdom was the Spirit of God at work in people’s lives. There is a whole section of the bible known as wisdom literature and we will be sampling some of this literature in the next few months. Biblical wisdom reflects the heart and mind of God. The path to wisdom begins with thanksgiving to and humility before God. This is why we begin our worship service with acclamations of praise and thanksgiving. In the Advent season, when Christians prepare for the celebration of Christ coming into the world, we sing the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel:”

                                       “O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.”

Note the hymn says, “teach us in her ways to go.” Yes, Lady Wisdom, later known as Sophia, was a feminine metaphor for God. Soon we will be reading excerpts from Proverbs which speaks of these aspects of God’s nature that define wisdom. Wisdom is not just intelligence, wisdom is holy, uncorrupted, loving, good, steadfast and free from anxiety. Wisdom enables and nurtures human relationships. Wisdom does not exist to serve the self, but to benefit others. With all the great innovations the human mind has created, we have allowed them to become obstacles to our humanity in our relationships with others and with God. We are learning, to our despair, that foolish decisions made for immediate, but short-lived gains, are now threatening the future existence of life on this planet. We have not been able to conquer the Covid virus, as we did with smallpox and polio, because of foolish decisions to give in to baseless fears and to ignore the health and well-being of others.

An important part of wisdom is knowing to which voice, among the many that compete for our attention, one should listen. The Bible states over and over, that God is the voice of true wisdom. The history of Israel is the history of a people whose well-being and favor with God rose and fell with their faithfulness. When they followed God’s laws and listened to God’s voice there was peace and enough resources for the whole community. Remember, God’s famous prophets only emerged when Israel strayed from God’s ways – when there was a great disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Prophets challenged Israel when the widows, orphans, the poor, and the immigrants were oppressed and afflicted by those with the power to hoard the nation’s riches. Prophets were called when all people did not receive equal justice and mercy as God required.

The three kings of Israel whom we have read about recently, demonstrate that wealth and power may be achieved by cunning, but often are not accompanied by wisdom. The author of the letter to the Ephesians describes Christian wisdom as including maturity, thoughtful discernment, selflessness, and thankfulness. The epistle writer was concerned with what it means to live a Christian life. Wisdom, here is the ability to discern and act on the will of God.

Solomon thought it was going to be easier to be faithful to God and to lead the people entrusted to his care if God gave him wisdom. God even gave him two extra worldly advantages to ensure his success. God threw in wealth and honor. Wealth would make him more powerful and his life more comfortable; and the privilege of honor would guarantee people would listen to him and look favorably upon his decisions. It would seem that Solomon could not fail. But, despite his noble intentions he did fail to be the faithful and wise king he hoped to be. The trouble with wisdom is human beings must choose to use this gift from God for it to be effective. Instead of boosting one’s wisdom, wealth and privilege, tend to work against the kind of wisdom God bestows.

I’m sure you can think of some more recent examples of intelligent, well-educated, rich, and powerful people making foolish decisions, as defined by biblical wisdom. From the biblical perspective, Jeff Bezos would have been wiser to spend his billions on improving the wages, health care, and working conditions of his Amazon employees. Instead of rocketing himself into space, he could have spent his money to improve his future workforce with aid to education for the disadvantaged. With a bit more biblical wisdom, perhaps the many self-serving legislators who have made our country’s legislative branch dysfunctional could put democracy and the common good for the people they are supposed to serve ahead of personal power and privilege.

Look at some of Solomon’s early decisions and you will see the consequences of having God’s gift of wisdom but choosing not to use it.  His brother, Adonijah, promised to give up his birthright to the crown, but Solomon had him killed anyway. Solomon heeded his father’s deathbed request for him to murder two old men who had once offended David. He built himself a palatial home before building the temple God had given him the honor of building. He married the pagan daughter of an Egyptian Pharoah, the Hebrew peoples’ historic enemy. And these were just some of his first actions as a young king.’ Solomon ruled and was ruled by, his own ego. He insisted on more and more grand building projects. Eventually, his people were enslaved, both physically and economically, to build and pay for Solomon’s self-promoting monuments.

The bible tells us that the world was created through God’s wisdom and love, which, at a particular place and time, came as a person in the flesh of Jesus Christ. He was humbly born in human flesh. He revealed divine wisdom and gave his body as the bread of life that the world’s hunger would be satisfied. This is the foolishness of the cross that Paul tells us about in the first chapter of First Corinthians: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (v.25)

John’s gospel begins with introducing Jesus as the incarnation of God’s Word, present since the creation of the world. In this poetic and highly symbolic gospel, John challenges us to become the body of Christ. As in the other, synoptic gospels, in John, Jesus had as much trouble convincing his disciples to ’follow God’s ways and listen to his words as God did Solomon. Here Jesus encourages his disciples to embody God’s love and righteousness in their day-to-day lives. Eating and drinking may be ordinary activities, but infused with divine blessing, they become holy, as do we when we are so wise as to follow God’s ways as revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

Jesus used language that would have shocked and repelled many of the people in his audience. In Aramaic, the devil was called, “the eater of flesh.” But Jesus was going beyond the literal meaning of the words, “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood.” He is asking his disciples to not only share their mortal, living bodies with him but to also act as his corporate body in the world. Jesus is asking his disciples to sacrifice the immediate gratification of worldly rewards and privileges and to wisely share God’s good gifts that we might share in his eternal life. Sounds foolish to many, but to those who choose to follow Christ, it is the wisest decision we could make. And so, we come to Christ’s table to the meal he hosts in symbol and spirit. We eat the bread that will fill our hunger for God’s grace and peace and drink from the cup of Christ’s salvation.

Amen. May it be so!






© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2021, All Rights Reserved
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