For Christians, the Bible is the ultimate book. It’s a rule of life, an authoritative guide, a library, a source of teaching, and, even though the word is used overly in the Bible, a source of wisdom. Solomon is considered to be the inspiration if not the author of several books considered in the category of “Wisdom books” although the Wisdom of Solomon is considered part of the secondary canon (deuterocanonical) by the Roman Catholics and Orthodox, non-canonical but approved for study if not for doctrine by Anglicans and several other mainline denominations, but totally without approval or even mention in a great number of protestant churches.
Today’s reading is about wisdom and the treasure that wisdom is. Wisdom is something that most people equate with being smart or being intelligent, but a lot of intelligent people don’t seem to have a lot of wisdom while some of our most innocent members, small children, seem to have unexpected wells of it.
To the writer of the book, wisdom is the ultimate goal. The pursuit of wisdom was more important than anything. Christians often say, “Oh no, salvation is the most important thing.” That might be, but we need wisdom in order to be able to live out the rest of the biblical mandates that are certainly a road to the kingdom Jesus wanted us to build on earth.
I remember being a teen who thought I knew a whole lot more than my parents. I don’t think I was the only teenager my generation to have that thought, nor do I think I invented the concept either. Wisdom frequently comes with age. We don’t like to admit it but, “We grow too soon old and too late smart,” as the Pennsylvania Dutch saying goes.
Many societies treasure the elders, their oldest people, because they have lived life and they have accumulated wisdom about how to live and be in the world they inhabit even though they don’t or didn’t have what we would consider book learning at all. They were treasured because they knew a lot, and could pass this on to the younger generations, who, hopefully would listen and pass it on in their turn. This ensured the survival of the group and their particular way of life.
I compare this traditional kind of respect for elders and their wisdom to what we seem to be addressing today in our modern world. Elders today are often seen as useless idea-blockers who resist almost any kind of change, seeing it as a threat to their power, prestige and position. Jesus represented change and new ideas, hence he was a threat to the existing power structure. Change isn’t necessarily bad, not if it evens the playing field or advances what can be done to benefit all people, not just a select few. Still, new ideas may need to be tempered with the experience and wisdom of those who have learned through living, making mistakes, and finding solutions to those mistakes.
No single socioeconomic group has the corner on the wisdom market. Some of the wisest people in the world may not be able to read textbooks or pass exams but they know their territory, know how to survive and thrive in places and situations that their more educationally-advantaged brothers and sisters probably don’t. On the other hand, being poor doesn’t equate being wise because a lot of poor people make a lot of poor decisions, based on what’s most expedient, or that it is simply the only thing they know to do. More education can lead to better choices. Better choices make for greater wisdom. It’s that simple.
That our generation is willing to risk our children’s future on cutting important things like education budgets, food programs, health care for the poor, Medicare, veterans’ services and others, shows that we are not really very wise stewards of what we have been given. It also goes against pretty much everything that Jesus taught which we, as Christians, are supposed be wise enough to pick up on and follow. “A workman is worthy of his hire,” fair wages for all, care for the women, children and orphans, healing the sick, visiting the prisoners, burying the dead — the Bible is full of such precepts. It is about living for and with others, not what each individual can grab for themselves.
Where is the wisdom to be gained in denying children and young people, even older ones as well, the road to wisdom to which one component is education. Tribal elders taught their young people the important things: the precepts, morals, practices, faith, prayers, crafts, and all the other things that they needed to know to enable the younger members to understand who they were, where they were, how they got there, what they were expected to do, and how to build on that to advance or even just to exist successfully in their world.
Wisdom is something to be sought, like the pearl of great price. Wisdom means taking the long view of things instead of the short term. Wisdom is balancing the good of all people against the good of the few and the detriment of the rest. What is our track record of obedience to that challenge from God? Not very good.
To truly follow the Bible we have to use wisdom, and we have to be wise enough to understand what we do in fact the affects the world around us whether it’s tossing a pebble into still water or making decisions that will affect the lives of billions globally with trade, disaster relief, or even just coexist peaceful coexistence.
I wonder – where is today’s wisdom to be found? What elders do we listen to for their wisdom gained by education and experience? Where is God in all of this?
Perhaps it’s time to stop trying to be so smart and concentrate on being wise. It would be our best investment and, I believe, something God wants and expects of us.
Image: “Wisdom-Reid-Highsmith” by Artist is Robert Lewis Reid (1862–1929). Photographed 2007 by Carol Highsmith (1946–), Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –