©2014 by Charles Strohmer
These posts on wisdom and human mutuality have been raising urgent questions about why we tend to limit the reach of wisdom to some people but not to others. For we have been seeing what it means that wisdom, according to Scripture, delights in “all humanity.” As further evidence, the previous post looked at Lady Wisdom’s vital role for sustaining the unity-in-diversity of human life. She is, we concluded, a huge fan of human mutuality, not of uniformity or sameness. And she is an agency of shalom amid that diversity.
That wisdom is for all humankind is affirmed centuries later by Jesus, in Roman-occupied Palestine, where diverse cultures abounded. Today, it is usually Jesus’ roles as a healer, miracle worker, and savior that are emphasized. Of course he is also known as a teacher but, to our loss, little emphasis has been placed on Jesus’ rather significant role as a teacher of wisdom. If you are a Christian reading this, stop and think about this for a minute. When was the last time, or the only time, that you heard a sermon on Jesus as a wisdom teacher? I sometimes ask this question to congregations and classes; it is rare to see a hand go up. (Perhaps in some later posts we can spend some time looking at “Jesus the wisdom teacher.”)
Here, I just want to draw attention to a kind of riddle that Jesus makes about himself and John the Baptist. Jesus has been having a rather difficult time talking to a mixed audience that just doesn’t get John, and you can feel Jesus’ frustration building. He’s tried various ways to help them “get’ John, but to no avail.
To what shall I liken you, then? Jesus finally replies. You’re like silly children. We played dance music but you did not dance, so we played a funeral dirge but you did not mourn. John came fasting both wine and bread, like a holy, saintly man. But you say John has a demon. On the other hand, I’m eating and drinking and you say I’m a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
His frustration then boils over in a cryptic comment, which he leaves with the crowd to solve: “But wisdom is proved right [vindicated; justified] by all her children” (Luke 7:35).
If you want to know who can be seen responding wisely to wisdom, “Wisdom is proved right by her actions,” which is the way Matthew’s Gospel ends the riddle (11:19). Simply put, Jesus seems to be saying, look at what people do. This echoes a prominent teaching of Proverbs, that by their actions people will be known as being wise or foolish. One wonders if that crowd ever figured out that wisdom is available to all sorts of people, including sinners, apparently. As David Ford writes Christian Wisdom, an exceptionable book, wisdom has many children. To explain further, Ford notes that the little word “all” in Luke 7:35 stresses “the diversity of the children and how hard it can be to see the family likeness” (p. 15).
There is also this affirmation of wisdom in relation to human mutuality in the epistle of James, a letter attributed to a brother of Jesus: “If any of you is deficient in wisdom, let him ask God for it, who gives with open hand to all men” (1:5; Weymouth New Testament). This epistle carries so many features of the Hebrew wisdom tradition that its author, says wisdom scholar Ben Witherington, “has a commitment to a typical Wisdom agenda” (Jesus the Sage; p. 237.)
I think I’ve said enough for now, to get some conversation started, about the wisdom norms of peaceableness and human mutuality. See “Leave a reply,” below.
So far in this series of posts on the wisdom tradition, we have seen that its literature reveals wisdom as an agency of shalom (well-being, wholeness, flourishing) and of human unity-in-diversity. This has helped me immensely to understand why reliance on wisdom is a vital means to enable Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others to work cooperatively and peaceably together in their communities, nations, and international relations.
In the next few posts, I would like to move this discussion from the realm of ancient ideas to the contemporary street in order to illustrate some of the challenges that will be faced in our day when trying to actually implement wisdom’s peaceable (shalomic?) way.