Finding Lady Wisdom: Proverbs 1.20-2.8

Tony Sig

Things have been a bit slow around here so I thought I’d allow myself the indulgence of posting a brief sermon I am to preach tonight. Peace.

No matter how many times she called, I didn’t hear her. I was already doing something. My mind was focused on the task at hand and that meant that I became oblivious to her voice. In order to get my attention she would’ve had to have shaken me by the shoulders and that’s not her style. Eventually, she didn’t even bother. But I mean come on, is it any fault of mine that I wasn’t paying attention for my mom when I was playing Mario Brothers 3? If I didn’t time the run perfectly I wouldn’t get the points!

But to be fair, Mario Brothers, and indeed many Nintendo games, illustrate quite nicely this passage of Proverbs on Wisdom. (I know that some of you youngsters have no idea about Mario 3 but I don’t know much about your newfangled Wiis, X-Boxes, and Playstations so indulge me in some nostalgia) If you just go plowing through the levels you’re gonna miss out on the real jewels of the game. If you don’t squat on that white block, you’re not gonna drop behind the screen and get one of the Warp Whistles; you can skip whole worlds with that! And if you’re too busy fooling around with turtle shells, you won’t be able to fly up on the clouds and get those coins. Or, to use another example, you could run haphazardly through Metroid, but if you miss out on the ice ray – Well, what’s the point?

The book of Proverbs is part of a set of books in the Old Testament often called the “wisdom literature.” Now many major Christian interpreters found quite a bit to say about the wisdom literature; besides the Psalms, Job and the Song of Songs are used all the time, and Proverbs has these special passages where Wisdom is personified as a women, and these passages were important in later developments in our understanding of who Jesus is.

Today’s reading is one of those passages where Wisdom is personified. She’s depicted as calling out in the busiest places of town, the entrances to the city, the streets, the walls. But the people she is addressing pass her by as if she’s not there. Now what is this saying to us? Well I don’t think that it’s simply saying that Wisdom is easy to acquire, that perhaps if we just relaxed our hurried lives we could hear her voice plain as day. She’s calling out, but maybe she has a very quiet voice. In fact when we look at this as a whole, and in light of the next chapter, I think this becomes clearer. I’m going to read some of chapter two so you can see what I mean. *read from chapter 2.1-8*

[1] My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
[2] making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
[3] yes, if you cry out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
[4] if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures;
[5] then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
[6] For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
[7] he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
[8] guarding the paths of justice
and preserving the way of his saints.

Let’s dwell on those words and figures. If we would get Wisdom we must receive the author’s words, treasure his commandments, make our ears attentive, incline our heart, seek wisdom like silver, and search for it. We must, in fact, echo Wisdom’s own cry and raise our voices. If we are going to find Wisdom, we’ve got to put all our effort into it.

Contrast this with those other people in the first chapter, rushing past Wisdom. They aren’t merely “too busy,” they actively resist Wisdom’s call. They refuse to listen, they despise reproof, they don’t heed counsel and have a love of simplicity. It’s not only like when I didn’t hear my mom’s voice in ignorance, it would be as if I turned up the volume on the TV so I couldn’t hear her. She’d probably just want me to do the dishes anyway.

But while not hearing wisdom might indicate more than a general busyness it’s also not less. In order to hear Wisdom, it means we’ve to hear past the din of our lives; to hear her in the streets means pausing and listening and hearing past the simple answers. How many of you are on Facebook? This is the first time I’ve been on Facebook during an election year and let me tell you, I am seriously considering fasting the thing every fourth year. Everybody’s got the answers on the internet. We even have fact checkers pitted against other fact checkers. I’d say “so much for facts” but that might make me a scoffer. Now we don’t think too much of names like “scoffer” or “fool” but in the cultures this book was written in, a fool and a scoffer are basically beyond the pale. There’s very little hope held out for them. But there’s also this group mentioned in the passage, these simple people who love simplicity. There’s maybe, just maybe, hope for them. But we have to give up simplicity. The hard truths are rarely simple. Look out for the political peddlers selling you their candidate…we’ve got to test their simple answers. In life, in politics, in our walk with the Lord, we need to understand that getting to the heart of things often means giving up on the pat answers we make for ourselves to deal with difficulties. It means we might need to give up untruths we tell ourselves about the world, about other people, and even about ourselves.

Because the stakes are so much higher in real life than they are in a video game. If we persist in ignoring the call of Wisdom, if we think that we can worry about it later – “I’m too busy now for that” – it may turn out that we won’t be able to find her when we need her. It might be too late. Wisdom, as we heard, requires the attentive ear, the ready heart, the seeking disposition — it’s hard to be attentive when we’re in distress. If we already had wisdom in our hearts, though, then we would have her near in times of trouble.

And what is Wisdom anyway? Here we’ve been talking about Wisdom this whole time, but what or whom do we seek when we seek wisdom? Here it’s not just the wise sayings of an old monk or karate master. We’re not Harry Potter waiting on Professor Dumbledore’s every word. Proverbs helps us out here. The phrase is well known: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” In the additional section of chapter two I read we hear this, that if we seek wisdom “then we will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” This, then, is what Proverbs means in speaking of wisdom. It’s not simply being knowledgable about the world, or having a particular religious feeling or sentiment. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of our coming to know the Lord. This is the end of our searching, the goal of our seeking: to know the Lord, to know Jesus, who is the Wisdom of God. To know the fear of the Lord is to recognize, in traditional language, the holiness of God. God isn’t an object in the world you can go to see. He isn’t a really big version of something in the world we know. And so to know this Lord entails a rejection of easy language about God, and an openness to the reality that God isn’t simply available to manipulate or bring easy comfort to opinions we already have. Maybe you feel life’s too much for you to cultivate the practices necessary to know the Lord. Too busy to pray. Too hectic to open yourself up to challenge or comfort. I know that prayer doesn’t come easy for many. But let me encourage you, I know that God wants to share himself with you, and he will, if you’ll take the risk and try.

I’m reminded of Jesus’s parable of the sower. Wisdom, like the sower’s seed, is spread everywhere, and it falls sometimes on the hard path, sometimes in weeds, sometimes in good soil. Those who pass Wisdom by in the streets, on about their business, are like the weedy soil. Jesus says that “these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Let us be rather like the good soil: “these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.

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