August 19, 2012 – Get Wisdom!
When we were little, we all heard folk tales about people who met a fairy or found a magical something-or-other that gave them wishes. It was usually three wishes, and it always ended badly. No matter what those people wished, it was always something foolish, so that when they got what they wished for they were no better off than they were when they began. Sometimes they were worse off – I remember one story where the man ended up with a sausage stuck to his nose. The wishes always came out badly because the person who got the wish was greedy or mean or selfish or quarrelsome or all of those things – in short, they were fools, and the point of the story was that they got what they deserved. As kids, we always thought we were smarter than those people in the story; if we were ever offered three wishes we had it all worked out so that we’d get what we wanted. But I’m pretty sure we were so caught up in our own little greedinesses that we missed the point of the story, which was to understand the difference between wisdom and foolishness.
The story of Solomon is a true-to-life version of these folk tales. To begin with, Solomon had an interesting history. He was the son of King David and Bathsheba, which was not a very honorable marriage. We’ve read recently how King David happened to see Bathsheba and took a liking to her so that he had her brought to the palace. And he not only took her by force, though she was a married woman, but when he found she was pregnant he arranged to have her husband murdered so that he could take Bathsheba as his wife. David repented of the evil he had done, but still God took from them the child they had conceived; the child became ill and died. But after Bathsheba became David’s wife she conceived again, and the son that she bore was Solomon. And in the second book of Samuel it says that the Lord loved Solomon. He was even given the nickname Jedidiah, which means “beloved of the Lord.” It was Solomon that God chose to reign in the place of David his father, even though he was the offspring of such a questionable union, even though he was not the oldest or the most popular of his many brothers. God chose Solomon because he loved him.
And when David died, God came to Solomon in a dream and said “Ask what I shall give you.” When God asks that, it’s even better than saying “The sky’s the limit” – what is there that God couldn’t give? Can you even imagine what you would say if God said that to you?
But we read that Solomon chose not to ask for all the things most people would have asked for: he didn’t ask for riches or honor or power or victory or a long life. When God asked what he wanted, Solomon thought first of all of the great responsibility God had laid on him in making him king over Israel. And the thing he wanted more than anything in the world was to do well the thing that God had given him to do; to govern God’s chosen people. Because when he looked at himself he didn’t see the powerful son of the most powerful king Israel had ever had. He looked at himself and he felt like a little child, completely inadequate for the task of ruling this great people. Solomon was humble. And because he was humble, he asked for wisdom. And God was so pleased that Solomon asked for wisdom that he gave him more wisdom than anyone had ever had or ever would have, and on top of that he gave him all the riches and honor he didn’t ask for as well.
When we think of the wisdom of Solomon, I think we often imagine him being really smart, like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz when he got his new brains. But that wasn’t at all what Solomon was asking for. What he asked for was an understanding mind to discern good from evil. He wanted – he needed – to understand what things were of God and what things were not of God, or how could he ever lead God’s people? To have wisdom is to know how to live according to God’s definition of goodness and beauty and justice, in contrast to the definitions of this world. To ask for wisdom is to ask to see with God’s eyes and to hear with his ears and to understand with his heart, so that we can do with our hands those things he calls us to do.
God was pleased with Solomon when he chose wisdom above all other gifts. And he wants the same for us. We aren’t called to be kings, but whatever we are called to do, each and every one of us needs wisdom to do it. We need wisdom to care for our children and to help our friends and neighbors. We need wisdom for the decisions that face us every day, little decisions about our daily affairs and big decisions about the troubles and changes and losses that we face. God doesn’t necessarily come to us like he did to Solomon and say ask anything you want and it’s yours, but he has promised to give us wisdom. James wrote in his epistle: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
Wisdom isn’t for the special people, or the important people, or the intelligent people. Wisdom is for everyone who belongs to God, because if we belong to him we have chosen to live a way that is very different from the world around us. God offers his wisdom to those who need it. Wisdom is for those who are humble enough to see that they are helpless without God, that faced with the tasks before them they are just like little children. And to us, helpless children that we are, God gives his wisdom generously, never reproaching us, never asking us “why are you always so needy? Why can’t you be more self-sufficient?” No, he loves us to come and he loves to give his wisdom to us.
The wisdom of this world is nothing like the wisdom of God. If we are wise in this world we are great fools in the kingdom of God. But if we humble ourselves to be fools in this world, we are learning the wisdom that God has for us. The most foolish person who has ever lived in this world is Jesus, who gave up everything for people who rejected him. The most foolish thing that has ever been done in this world is that the Son of God let people put him to death on the cross. That is the reason the people in the gospel reading today couldn’t hear what Jesus had to say – it wasn’t sensible. Wasn’t this just the son of that carpenter Joseph and his wife Mary? How can he say he came down from heaven? It makes no earthly sense!
And it didn’t make any earthly sense – but we can never learn wisdom by listening to what is sensible according to the world. The world tells us that it is sensible to do what is best for ourselves – take care of number one. It is sensible to love only the people that love us. It is sensible to do everything we can to get ahead in this world, and to avoid anything painful or unpleasant. The world offers its wisdom to us freely. But if listen we end up like the poor fools in the folk tales, like that man with the sausage stuck to the end of his nose. Because sensible doesn’t really lead us anywhere good – only the wisdom of God lets us understand what is good and what is evil, and only the wisdom of God leads to life.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote: “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Though we might not think about it, we pray for wisdom every time we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, because we are praying that the good and beautiful and just and life-giving ways of God will become the way we live here on earth. Jesus taught us to call on our Heavenly Father and ask “let your name be held in honor, let your will be done, let your kingdom come” “Please,” we pray, “heavenly Father, let us see and hear and do everything according to your ways.”
The longer we live with God and the more we ask for his wisdom – and that isn’t a one-time thing, but a prayer that we offer up over and over again as we have need – the more we will be saddened and wearied – sometimes we will even be made angry – by the foolishness of the world around us. But the more we recognize the foolishness of the world around us, the more we know that God is giving his wisdom to us, not so that we can feel superior to the world, but so that we can be beacons of God’s light and health and peace in the darkness of this world.
Wisdom is the way of God. He created us in his wisdom, calling every one of us by name. In Ephesians, Paul says we are God’s handiwork, literally it says we are God’s poems, and that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. When God created each of us for the good work he gave us to do, whether that is building things or growing things or teaching or caring for people or raising a family, he knew that we would need to come to him for wisdom to carry out those tasks. And he delights to give us wisdom when we come in humility to say – we are just little children, we aren’t able to do the work you gave us to do.
The one thing necessary is that we ask in faith. When James promises that God will give us wisdom he adds, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” When we come to him in faith, our Father promises to give us the wisdom we need. He doesn’t promise that we will be brilliant or impressive or deep. But he does promise that we will be able to see with his eyes and hear with his ears and discern with his heart what is good and what is evil. And so we will be able to do all that he calls us to do. Wisdom is the way of God, and so for us it is the way – the only way – of joy and peace and life.
So when is the right time to ask for wisdom? It’s today. And tomorrow. And the next day. We ask for wisdom for what we are facing now, and the next thing we know we are facing something new, or maybe the same old thing all over again, and back we go. Wisdom is the treasure we never stop seeking; and it’s the gift God never stops giving us. The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about wisdom. The writer – who may well have been Solomon himself – wrote this: “Get wisdom, get insight. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.” And listen to this next part: “The beginning of wisdom is this: GET WISDOM, and whatever you get, get insight.” Today, and tomorrow, and the next day, pursue wisdom like the treasure it is – not a useless treasure that you put on display or keep locked up in a safe, but the kind of treasure you can’t live without, like pure air, like clear water. GET WISDOM. Ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to you.