What Wisdom Are You Seeking?
Epiphany Sunday, Common Lectionary Year B
©2018 Rev Elisabeth R Jones
There’s a joke in the North of England,
“Where do you come from?
“I come from Leeds.”
“Well obviously, no one would willingly go to Leeds.”
Today’s story is the Biblical equivalent.
If your resident postal code is Babylon, Persia,
where hanging gardens, mathematics, indoor plumbing, libraries
anywhere around the fertile crescent,
“far in the east”
you’d have to have a very good reason to travel from there to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was a scrabbly, rocky outpost,
Ruled by a puppet king, a foreigner kept on his throne by the might of passing cohorts of Roman soldiers simply to keep the trade routes open.
Jerusalem was Leeds, with sand.
So why then, does Matthew,
who chooses his words with precision and care,
tell us that the ones who travelled from the east,
following a star, in search of a king of the Jews
nor even three,
What makes them wise? I wonder.
What makes us wise?
Is it the accumulation of knowledge, perhaps?
For them, was it a navigable knowledge of the stable and moving stars in the night sky?
A passing grade on the yearly tax update exams? in Algebra?!
Eleven years of graduate school,
so that you can parse Hebrew verbs,
or fix a leaky heart valve,
or surgically remove a cataract?
These things make us competent,
knowledgeable, erudite, smart,
but do they make us wise?
I don’t think so.
Look at them, these wise ones.
Look at those in your own experience
whom you would call wise.
What is it that makes them so?
What wisdom is it that you would seek?
“In the days of Herod, after Jesus was born,
wise ones from far in the east came to Jerusalem
full of questions.”
Full of questions!
Wise Ones are full of questions!
“Where is the one we seek?
The one whom we have left home to find?
The one about whom we have studied?
The one for whom we were prepared to follow an unhinged star?
The one before whom we are prepared to bend our knee in homage?
The one to whom we wish to give the gift of time and treasure?”
What amazing questions!
Ones we would do well to ponder for a moment,
for the answer we give to them
will shape our lives, undoubtedly.
If the one we seek is security, or money, or fame, or power,
or longevity, or perfect health, or the perfect body, or the perfect partner,
how will that shape your life? how will it make you wise? will it?
What if the one or the wisdom you seek is
to love, justice, compassion,
the ability to truly listen, or to be fully present,
then undoubtedly the search,
the journey will shape your lives accordingly.
Some other things I’ve noticed about these wise ones.
Wise ones are open to mystery.
Unlike the fact-finders,
these wise ones were willing to heed
the signposts of intuition and dream, and stars,
to face fully into mysteries unfathomable,
and to step into the unknown on the strength of such intuition.
By the ways of the world that can seem so rash,
but time and again,
it is the first step of wisdom.
Wise ones are humble.
I’ve been blinded by the gold and the exotic riches of these wise ones for so long,
that this is strange news to me.
But wisdom requires the humility to know we don’t know,
and the humility to follow,
rather than to demand that we lead.
And the humility to bend the knee, and to give away,
to be willing to sacrifice time, treasure, talent
in pursuit of wisdom.
Wise ones are joyful.
Did you notice that in the story? Again I’ve missed it often.
But what is it Matthew says…
“As the star stopped over the place where Jesus was, they were overwhelmed with joy.”
Hmm… What would that look like? For you?
What wisdom sought, and found would cause you to hug yourself or a stranger,
dance a silly dance, whoop with delight, laugh til you cry?
I don’t know, for you,
but the wisdom of loving one who loves you back,
that comes to mind.
Wise ones are generous.
Overwhelming joy, bended knees,
and the outpouring of ridiculous generosity.
Does this happen for you when you have found
what you’re seeking?
If it doesn’t, perhaps what you seek is not wisdom.
How will we know if what we are seeking is wisdom?
How will we know if what we are seeking is good and true?
I don’t have answers for each of you,
I hope you’ll ask the good questions for yourselves.
These wise ones, made lively through the pen of Matthew,
are good wise guides:
If what you seek propels you
to ask good questions
to be open to mystery
to be humble
to be overwhelmed with joy
to be ridiculously generous with heart your soul, your self.
Then, it is wisdom, holy wisdom you seek and find.