Wisdom Meets Us
Nov 13, 2023
And, now for something completely different! No, I’m not about to do a song and dance routine, which, at least in terms of the song, would certainly be different, but not particularly entertaining. Instead, I’m going to focus on a text that is new to me, and probably to you too.
I was surprised when I looked at the assigned scripture for today that a passage from the Wisdom of Solomon is listed as an alternate for the first reading. I’m fairly confident in saying that most of us have heard it because it’s from the Apocrypha … the Apocry what??
There is no easy way to explain the Apocrypha, but I’ll try; during the time between the completion of the Old Testament and the first writings of the New Testament many essays, psalms and historical accounts circulated through the synagogues and the early Christian churches.
Some of these documents, written before the birth of Jesus, came to be regarded as inspired and deserving a place in what we now call the Bible. They were given the name Apocrypha, which means hidden, and were grouped together between the Old and New Testaments, although in some editions of the Bible they were interspersed among the Old Testament books.
When the Reformation occurred, Martin Luther did not believe these books held equal status with sacred scripture, although he wrote that they were “useful and good for reading.” After that, many Protestant Bibles omitted them completely, although the Roman Catholic Church approved them as inspired in the mid-1500’s. Thus, they usually are interspersed among the books of the Old Testament in what is specified as “Roman Catholic Bibles,” which may be why readings from them show up in the lectionary every now and then. (1)
And so, today, we heard from the Wisdom of Soloman, written in about 50 BCE. It is a book about, you guessed it, wisdom – its benefits, nature and role in the lives of the faithful. The words are attributed to Solomon, the son of King David.
You may recall that in 1 Kings 3 Solomon was asked by God, “What shall I give you?” Just think of the potential answers to that question – wealth, power, a happy family, good health – but Solomon asked for wisdom. God’s response was this: “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind….” (1 Kings 3:11-12)
The importance of wisdom became a theme of King Solomon’s life; in Proverbs – a Biblical collection of wisdom sayings – he instructed his son concerning the timeless value of wisdom saying, “Happy is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gains understanding; for her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. (Proverbs 3:13-15)
So, how exactly do we define this characteristic of matchless worth? The Hebrew word that is most often used for wisdom has the principle meaning of skill, so perhaps wisdom is skillful living. Let’s look again at what today’s reading says about wisdom, and then ponder how we might view it.
The first thing you might note is that wisdom is described using a feminine pronoun. (I’ll just point that out and will not conjecture concerning why that’s the case.) We read that wisdom is radiant. Wisdom is found by those who seek it and is evident to those who desire it. In fact, wisdom seeks out those who are worthy and graciously appears to them, banishing worry and being present in every thought.
I’ll note here that some scholars equate Wisdom with the Holy Spirit, and others describe wisdom as being infused in creation, a part of God’s character. Pastor Quintin Morrow describes wisdom in less poetic terms.
He writes that wisdom is living with intention, thoughtfully, choosing the right and avoiding the wrong. Wisdom is living life with God’s will and ways as one’s guide, which creates moral intelligence and discernment. Therefore, wisdom is choosing the moral, and therefore often difficult path, while avoiding the immoral, and therefore most often easy path. The wise person’s life glorifies God and benefits others. Wisdom is learning from life’s mistakes. (2)
How would you define wisdom? Can you picture a wise person, perhaps someone you know, or who someone else has described? What stands out about that individual?
The characteristics I think of for someone who is wise are these: faithful, grateful, flexible, serene, sacrificial, able to see the big picture, accepting, humble and joyful. There are two people on my mind who fit this description.
One is a woman named Mary who I met when I was serving as Director of Pastoral Care at St. Luke Lutheran Community. At the time, her mother was a resident there, and Mary visited daily, wheeling her mother to every part of the building, where they both were known for their constant, radiant smiles. Mary was my right-hand person when it came to support and to coming up with creative ideas for worship on the Memory Care Unit.
We kept in touch after I left St. Luke, mostly by the ancient practice of sending one another letters and cards. When she moved to a senior apartment complex, and then to assisted living, she devised a way to encourage discouraged people. With a stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh settled on her walker as her companion, she shared inspiration and hope with those around her. Somehow, Winnie’s presence created an opening for the exchange.
Now Mary is a resident in nursing care at St. Luke, where I first met her, unable to continue corresponding, so I visit her occasionally. Her physical challenges are many, and yet I never leave without having laughed and without the wish that I could be like her.
The other person I have in mind is deceased Faith member Mollie Wright. Some of you knew her, many of you did not have the privilege. Mollie overflowed with humility and faith. I cherish a book of meditations based on the Psalms of David that she gave me because it has so many notes in it, written in her hand.
On page 107, a meditation titled, “God Hears and Answers”, she wrote: “No words were ever more true!! My life is filled with proof that God hears my prayer and his answers are perfect. Amen!”
I am sure that these women would not see themselves as wise, but to me they are/were infused with wisdom.
What are the words you would use to describe wisdom? Are they characteristics that you have, or are stiving to acquire? I’ve often said that I wish for wisdom; I’m certainly not there yet. But, if wisdom and the Holy Spirit are one, then perhaps there is hope for me. The promise of today’s reading is, after all, that if we desire wisdom, it will be made known to us, paraphrasing the verse, “she will graciously appear to us in our paths and meet us in every thought.” May it be so. AMEN
1. “Why do some Bibles have a section called the Apocrypha?”, Biblica, www.biblica.com
2. “Be A Wise Guy” by Quintin Morrow, Nov. 16, 2002, www.sermoncentral.com