St Andrew’s Croydon
Year B Week 20
Wisdom and Folly
Wisdom is a word which has fallen out of common use. Most people, if asked what they associated with Wisdom would say it was a make of toothbrush, or the comedian, Norman Wisdom whom some of you will remember.
But Wisdom is a word we often come across in the Bible. The Psalms, the Book of Proverbs and the letters of St Paul contain many examples the word ‘Wisdom’. A quick count suggests there are more than 240 occurrences of the word in the Bible, and, if you add the Apocrypha, there is a whole book about it ,called The Book of Wisdom.
When people stop using an important word it’s because they’ve forgotten what it means. As for its opposite – folly or foolishness – there’s so much of that around in the world today that it proves beyond all doubt that people have forgotten about wisdom. So today, when at least two readings mention it, we shall take a closer look at Wisdom.
The first reading, from the Book of Proverbs, talks about Wisdom as if she were a person.
Wisdom has built herself a house,
She has erected her seven pillars
She has laid her table…
To the fool she says
"Come and eat my bread
Drink the wine I have prepared!
Leave your folly and you will live,
Walk in the ways of perception".
The picture this suggests is a kind and wealthy woman who wants to share her riches with others less fortunate than she. From the window of her house she sees thousands of people in the streets below, simple, misguided people whose brains are starving for lack of the proper food and drink that she, Wisdom, alone can provide. Perhaps they just have nothing to eat; more likely, their minds have been feeding on an endless diet of intellectual junk-food which the Media, television, radio and newspapers, to say nothing of politicians provide all of us with nowadays for our daily intellectual bread.
Intellectual junk-food is bad for our minds in two ways. First, it provides no real nourishment. It lacks the mental equivalents of protein, carbohydrates and vitamins which our minds, no less than our bodies, need if they are to remain healthy. Second, intellectual junk needs no effort to prepare or to eat. People swallow it whole without pausing to consider what they are doing. As a result they come to believe that it’s the only kind of mental food that exists. Worse still, the stimulus which real mental food demands from the human brain for its ingestion just isn’t there.
Let’s now turn to the Gospel reading for today. A similar fault-line existed in the minds of those Jews to whom Jesus was talking. When he said "I am the living bread which has come down from heaven; anyone who eats this bread will live for ever", they simply couldn’t understand what he was saying. He was talking to them after the Feeding of the Five Thousand which St John treats as the focal point of his Gospel.
Those Jews had seen for themselves that Jesus was able to feed them miraculously with material bread when they were hungry. They even managed to make some connection between the miracle and God’s provision of the manna or miraculous bread which their ancestors ate in the wilderness. What they couldn’t see was two-fold:. the connection between Jesus, the Provider of the Bread by the lakeside, and the God who had fed their ancestors; secondly, they failed to see that the scripture "man shall not live on bread alone but on every word which proceeds from the mouth of God", applied not only to the bread they had just eaten, but even more so to the spiritual bread which Jesus claimed himself to be and which he promised to give to those who believe on him.
That’s very much the problem which Mr & Mrs Average-in-the-Street have today. They think that all their need can be satisfied by the junk-food, physical and mental, which is readily available everywhere today and which they eat without a second thought.
But junk-food, especially junk-food-for thought, always fails to satisfy or nourish them. Two and a half thousand years ago the Prophet Isaiah asked these same people "Why spend money and get what is not bread? Why give the price of your labour and go unsatisfied?". Even further back another prophet called Amos, foresaw an age dawning, not very different from our own, of which it would be said, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord… they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord and shall not find it".
We who have access to the true and substantial Word of God Sunday by Sunday have no excuse for making their mistake. Yet time and time again over the centuries the People of God have followed the bad example of what Mr & Mrs Average believe and do, under the mistaken impression that the more we come to resemble them, the more likely it is that they will pay attention to what God, through us, wants to say to them..
Of course we have a mission to them. But that mission consists in understanding where they’ve gone wrong and why, and then in persuading them of the error of their ways and encouraging them to search for the Truth and Wisdom which comes from God. It emphatically does not consist in making ourselves more like them – mistakes and all!. On the contrary, Mr & Mrs Average will draw the conclusion that being a Christian means being just like they are!.
Listen again to what St Paul said to the Ephesians in the second reading:
I urge you in the name of the Lord not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live… You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self.
Heavenly Wisdom comes about as the result of three quite simple steps. As the Book of Proverbs says:
Be not wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord;
Depart from evil.
Let’s look at these in turn.
The Heavenly-wiseman never overestimates his wisdom. For example, he never says to anyone, "I’m as clever as you are"; indeed the thought doesn’t even cross his mind. On the contrary, he takes it for granted that everyone he meets will have something however big or small to teach him. That is why we should always listen with great respect to what our children say to us. It’s quite usual for little bits Heavenly Wisdom to proceed "from the mouths of babes and sucklings".
The Heavenly-wiseman fears the Lord knowing that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. He never fails to come to the Altar every week to receive the Bread of Life knowing that in receiving the Body of Christ he becomes a partaker of that selfsame body and is thereby (to quote St Paul again) his mind is renewed by a spiritual revolution so that he can put on the new self which is only to be found within the Body of Christ.
The Heavenly-wiseman departs from evil. He doesn’t just avoid it, he positively walks away from it (or renounces and rejects it as it says in the service of Holy Baptism).
When Christian leaders today try to tell us that the Church should be inclusive they are sometimes telling the unvarnished truth; but more often they are putting forward a damnable and thoroughly misleading lie.
If they mean by "being inclusive" that as ransomed sinners we should welcome anyone who shows the slightest sign of turning from his or her evil ways, regardless of age, sex, skin-colour, wealth or intelligence then of course they are quite right.
If, however, as is increasingly often the case, that phrase "being inclusive" means being willing to accept and condone and even, in some cases, encourage any belief, however false, any behaviour, however immoral, and simply treat it as if it doesn’t matter, then they are terribly and fatally mistaken.
Faith and repentance must always go together hand-in-hand. It’s no less wicked to accommodate as a limb within Body of Christ somebody of the utmost moral righteousness but who doesn’t believe the Christian Faith, than it is to include someone with First Class Honours in Theology but who is living an immoral life.
Wisdom, said Jesus, is justified in her children. Right belief, accompanied by right behaviour is the acid test of our incorporation within the Body of Christ where alone salvation is to be found.
It’s the Wise Man, remember, who built his house upon the rock – the Rock which is Christ.
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