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Ways of Wisdom

Psalm 1
Mark 9:30-37


Today we continue to reflect on wisdom; on where we find it; how we recognize it; what God’s wisdom is like. Last week we read 3 readings which introduced us to Wisdom as the feminine face of God…Sophia, the one who danced and played at creation, and was in the heart of the life of the community teaching people to live with compassion and truth. Today we have 3 more windows that allow us to get glimpses of what true wisdom is.

The choir sang beautifully Psalm 1 in which the psalmist tells us that wisdom is delighting in the way of God drawing nourishment from it day and night. Those who are wise in this way are like a tree in a barren dry place that thrives and flourishes with life because it is planted beside a stream of living water. Rather than being cut off – in the barren desert, where it would not be able to survive, this tree finds what it needs from the stream of living water.

So wisdom is knowing where to put your roots. . Wisdom is knowing that you have to go to the places of places where your soul can be fed, and sustained by the presence of the wisdom of God’s Way. Wisdom is bearing your fruit-the fruit that is innate in the type of tree/person you are created to be. Bearing fruit for the nurture and blessing of others. Trees are rooted in earth and reach out to the heavens, connecting heaven and earth and it is the interplay and flow between both that allow the tree to bear fruit. A lot of wisdom in that brief psalm.

In James’s letter and Mark’s gospel we see that there is sometimes a conflict between God’s wisdom and our human understanding of wisdom. James’ letter contrasts true wisdom and false wisdom. True wisdom shows itself in works. Wisdom is as wisdom does. It has a moral dimension to it and leads to changed lives. James talks about the qualities of true wisdom as pure, peaceable, gentle – open to reason – full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.”

Then James speaks perhaps most deeply of God’s wisdom, “The harvest of justice is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Wisdom is peace-making; a very active task involving justice-making, healing, reconciliation. Very different from the human wisdom with which James contrasts it.

(Talk about the necklace from Dix Milles Villages.)

In Mark, again we see a real conflict between human and sacred wisdom. The context is really important. Jesus is on his journey to Jerusalem walking straight into conflict with political and religious powers that would ultimately destroy him. He might be driven by an Inner Wisdom that he must take this road-as painful and conflictual and terrifying as it might be. But the disciples aren’t too sure if this was wisdom at all! Didn’t sound like anything they’d ever thought of as wise or powerful, or what leadership was about!!

I’ve been wondering how old the disciples might have been. . . Old enough to have occupations. Old enough to be married (in Peter’s case). Old enough to be Jesus’ brothers. But they were young enough to be students of a 30-year-old rabbi. Young enough to be embarrassed to ask questions that might make them look foolish. Young enough actually to get into debates about which of them was greatest. I think they were a good bit under 20 years of age. Maybe this was like a Yeshiva-a Jewish youth school that followed a particular Rabbi. The insecurity around identity then might make more sense. .But maybe it isn’t only the young who struggle with who I am, and what am I meant to be and do with my life.’

This argument on the road about who was greatest? I wonder if this really came from egos that were too big, or from hunger for power? When I put myself into the text, I know that when I have done this sort of defensive thing, I was feeling threatened, inadequate, “too small”, and I felt I had to give myself a boost somehow, drop a few names, boast a bit …

And these disciples had good reason to feel threatened. This is the second time, in just a short time, that they’ve heard that this guy they’ve been following all over Palestine, feeling that he was the teacher of teachers, is going to his death. That was exactly what they did NOT want to hear. That was pretty shocking news for them to deal with. He said a bit earlier that those who would follow him, would have to take up their crosses, and need to be willing to self sacrifice, and to suffer if necessary. “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose the real you” he’d said. GULP. Then they’ve messed up at least twice since then (you can read all about it in Mark’s gospel. Perhaps their arguments on the road were in response to the stress of Jesus’ announcement of his possible death. An “anticipatory grief” which left them already feeling bereft and orphaned – little, helpless, scared, confused and inadequate.

So ,very humanly, they start squabbling amongst themselves attempting to boost their self-image at the expense of each other; because they are very naturally trying to avoid such painful feelings. They are scared and ashamed to even let Jesus know what they were talking about.  

How does Jesus respond to the disciples? Not by reading the riot act or giving them a lecture on humility -to add guilt and shame to their already overwhelmingly painful feelings – but by embracing and celebrating someone who lived with those kind of feelings “all the time” – a child! Remember what it was like to be three feet tall with all those huge people up there? Remember what it was like for someone else to always make the decisions and not be counted? Remember what it was like to have your very security and life totally dependent on adults? I’ve just been babysitting 2 under 3 year olds. It’s eye-opening.

Maybe Jesus is saying to the disciples: here’s one who feels as you do. Instead of cuffing him over the head and telling him to grow up, I’m going to embrace him, telling him in the way he can best understand that inadequacy and smallness are not to be despised, but are in fact the foundation of the Kingdom; I too came as a child… Maybe you disciples can even embrace your own feelings of leastness. instead of masking it by your arguments over greatness.

“God’s wisdom as taught by Jesus over and over again is the inversion of first and last–an upside-downing of the way we see ; of what we value.- of how we behave. Choosing a child was a radical step contrary to all popular notions of greatness in that time. It is important that the image of “child” that we hold in our head is not the well-fed, cutely clothed child of television advertisements, or the sweet little budding ballerinas I saw at my granddaughter’s first dancing class yesterday… but the impoverished child without health insurance and with little or no parental love and care.” The Talibé children of Senegal some of us heard about last night; the forgotten, neglected ones. –Childhood in the ancient world was perilous. They often were the first victims of famine, disease, or war. While important to their families, children were almost “non-persons” in the society, if they survived childhood at all. When Jesus speaks of the least of these–one who in the culture is marginalized, unvalued. Jesus was advocating a radical new and just ordering of society.

But Jesus goes one step further. To welcome such a vulnerable one says Jesus is to welcome God. It isn’t just about welcoming this one child. It is about continuing the welcome, continuing the welcome of vulnerable ones into the circle of community.

From the view of most cultures, how ridiculous that the first shall be last and the last shall be first! How unwise! The only way this could happen is if everyone crossed the finish line together at the same time. And we know that is not the way of the world!!!

Last night I heard on the Aboriginal TV network about a Saskatchewan canoe challeng this summer. 4 large canoes set out on a canoe race on the Sakatchewan river. 2 capsized in rapids the first few days and the others stopped to help them and make sure everyone was safe. They shared food as some of it had been lost. When they finally arrived at the finish line, all four canoes came in side by side, racers holding the canoes together so that they would all cross the finish line at exactly the same time.

Maybe it does take an entirely different way of thinking to be wise in a God way!!

Mark 9:30-37

For the second time in the gospel, Jesus tries to tell his disciples what the future will bring-betrayal, death, and rising. The first time it happened, Peter was rebuked when he tried to deny it. This time, no one says anything.

James 3: 13-18

The writer of this letter to the early church is writing to early Christian churches offering them advice on how they should behave with one another. This part of the letter speaks about true wisdom and false wisdom.

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