September 16 – 16th Sunday after Pentecost
Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1 Mark 8:27-38
One day I saw an old car illegally parked in downtown Halifax. There was a novelty license plate on the front bumper. Bright red letters demanded to know: If yer so darn smart, why ain’t ya rich?
Well, why ain’t I rich? I’m pretty smart after all. I have three degrees on my office wall and several certificates in my files. And books! Books on shelves, in piles, heaped on my desk. I preach and I teach preachers to preach. Yes, indeed, I’m darn smart! So, why ain’t I rich?
The church, my family and I spent thousands of dollars on my education. My doctoral parchment and a toonie will get me a cup of coffee. Shouldn’t I get some reward for all my hard work and learnin’?
The Book of Proverbs has lots to say about doing well by learning what’s right and following it. Wisdom brings divine approval and human praise. So, just get smart and we’ll be on the right path for sure. There’s a good chance we’ll be rich, too. Or at least successful in our neighbours’ estimation.
Our reading today demands a closer look at the wisdom tradition of the Old Testament. We meet Lady Wisdom. She’s more than wisdom personified. She’s God’s frustration with human foolishness. She’s one of the masks God wears when God reveals something of God’s self. Proverbs 1:7 says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That’s more than an attitude. It’s a relationship.
The purpose of this relationship ain’t to get so darn smart we’ll get rich. We still equate knowledge with reward. As an educator I’m painfully aware of the way post-secondary programs are now being evaluated not for the way they may build wiser people but for the paths they may provide to better-paying jobs.
Lady Wisdom walks through town and her call is seductive. She says, “Know me and I will tell you what you need to know.” This means that, on our own, we don’t know, can’t know everything we need to know.
The “simple ones” are not unbelievers. They’re the people who claim God’s name but still think they can find God’s wisdom all on their own. Without being distracted by revelation or annoyed by community.
We might be quick to see our spiritual-but-not-religious neighbours here, or our children who have given up on church. But these are Sabbath believers, weekday freelancers, who don’t see the shadow Sunday casts on Monday and the rest of the week. Wisdom calls to us when we leave the safe confines of church and go out to walk the streets of everyday life.
We Presbyterians are quick to criticize religion we say is all heart and no head. We’re people of the book and the sermon! But don’t we live, sometimes, as if we check our brains at the door when we come to church?
We listen as we worship and stuff seeps into our heads. Then as we go back out into what we call the real world, we put our brains back in place, filled with what we really rely on to live our weekday lives. God’s wisdom gets squashed down somewhere inside us. Maybe it squirts out our ears from the pressure of our own wisdom.
If we’re so darn smart, why ain’t we righteous? That’s the real question today.
What we can pick up on our own might just make us rich. But it won’t bring us into that harmony with God that is our souls’ aching hunger and burning thirst.
I still wonder sometimes why I ain’t rich since I am so darn smart. Jesus puts me in my place with two questions: “What will it profit you to gain the whole world and forfeit your life?
Indeed, what can you give in return for your life?” (Mark 8:36-37)
This wisdom is more than just a way to live. It’s the way to life.
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