Our verses in Proverbs today depict wisdom in a way you might not expect, as a woman wandering the streets, calling out warnings of doom to those who ignore her.
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” she asks. “How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”
Some read these lines as a warning to the young. And there’s probably some validity to that idea. Most of us do recognize that basic wisdom—an understanding of how life works, and how we should navigate that life—develops with age.
It’s the kind of wisdom you’ll find in a Jim Croce song: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Jim.”
We’re talking about wisdom that keeps you alive, the kind of wisdom we often call common sense. It’s good to have.
There’s more going on in the Proverbs text than just a call to earthly survival, however. Wisdom points her audience to the source of her existence, the knowledge and fear of the Lord. And that’s not necessarily the kind of wisdom where age has to be a factor. We all know some very young people who seem to have knowledge and fear of the Lord, and some very old people who don’t.
There also is the issue of which understanding of God is wise and which is unwise. All this week in the Middle East, people have been debating this topic with fire bombs and bullets.
As a Christian pastor, all I can do is remind us once again of what it means to define God through the lens of Jesus as Christ, Son of God, God Among Us in Flesh. Our version of godly wisdom makes us different from all other versions.
Let’s pause a minute and look at another text, Mark 8:27-38. It’s one of those places in the New Testament where it becomes abundantly clear who Jesus claimed to be and what it means to accept his claim. There are four parts to this text.
First, there’s the debate about Jesus’ identity. Peter made a startling assertion: Jesus is the Messiah, the savior promised by God.
Second, there is Jesus’ explanation of how the Messiah would go about doing his saving work. He had to suffer, die and rise from the dead. At this point, Peter didn’t do so well because Jesus’ explanation of the Messiah’s work didn’t match Peter’s worldly expectations for a warrior king. Peter rebuked Jesus for all that suffering and death talk.
“Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus said. “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Tough words from Jesus, but he was right, of course. Satan does like to keep our minds on our immediate, earthly concerns. He knows that if we glimpse the divine, he’ll lose his unholy grip on us.
Third, there is the demand made on us if we are to follow Christ. We are to deny ourselves. We are to burden ourselves with the cross, the symbol of the story of sacrifice we are to tell and incorporate into our own lives. We are to give up earthly wants and earthly ways to pursue strange, divine activities that don’t fit into this world.
The only reason that Jesus is able to say in Matthew 11:30 that “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” is that he knows his true followers will receive special power from the Holy Spirit to do what they are called to do.
Fourth, there are repercussions if we do not take up that cross, if we act like we’re ashamed of its startling message. They are essentially the same repercussions Lady Wisdom speaks of in Proverbs, a separation from God that has the potential to last for eternity.
And yes, Jesus is speaking to people who call themselves Christians, who say “I’m with you Jesus” in baptism and church membership but then fail to follow through. You have to own something to be ashamed of it.
It is here I get a little uncomfortable—I’m happier speaking of God’s infinite grace and love, and God’s willingness to save us through simple belief. But both our texts today speak of responsibilities and repercussions, and if I’m going to be true to the text, I have to point the repercussions out to you, too.
You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. And you definitely, definitely don’t thumb your nose at God’s call on your life, a call to sacrifice and ministry. It could very well be a matter of eternal survival.
As I bring all this up, are you a little uncomfortable, too? Who’s winning in your life, the one who is of this world, or God? As a believer, are you making a difference that matters in a divine way?
Your church, your local gathering of Christians, is the best place to start if you want to live the life divine.