January 21, 2015

Wisdom from both Old and New Testaments

Today’s first reading reminded me of the influence mothers have on their home. Remember when God called Jacob to leave his father-in-law and go to his family home? Remember that Rachael stole her father’s household idols? Now consider this event that happened perhaps years later as they traveled . . .

“So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.’ So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.” (Genesis 35:2–4)

These gods could have been obtained in the attacks on Shechem, but even if they were, the household of Jacob, including his sons, were doing what their mother did in taking them, rather than following their father in declaring God as his God.

The next reading pleases me. Solomon is talking about people who are wise. He says, “Who is like the wise? And who knows the interpretation of a thing? A man’s wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his face is changed.” (Ecclesiastes 8:1)

A friend told me that before she became a Christian, she knew who they were for their faces shone. I remember a wise man that we knew in California. He had a shiny face too, as did my first Christian mentor, Irene. Moses’ face shone when he had been in the presence of the Lord. During our holidays, we have been served by Christians in some restaurants. They also have shiny faces. Wisdom is a visible glory.

Solomon also says, “Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him.” (Ecclesiastes 8:5–6)

A shiny face is a glory of one kind, but knowing what to do at the right time and in the right way may be a greater glory. It is certainly rare. Those who are wise can thank God for this great gift, which is available for the asking. (See James 1:2-4)

The last reading is from a story Jesus told that included one person that was not very wise. He’d been given some money by his boss and told to invest it. In English, this money is called ‘talents’ which causes many readers to think that the story is about our God-given abilities. While it could include such gifts, it is not limited to that.

In this story, two men did what they were told and were blessed. However, the man who had received the one talent came forward saying, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”

His master (or boss) was right ticked and said, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:24–30)

Jesus’ story started as a lesson on using what we have to further His kingdom, but quickly became a description of eternal judgment against anyone who does not respond to the gifts God offers. In this case, it points to the gift of eternal life; putting it aside is the reason why sinners wind up in outer darkness instead of in heaven with God.

These three passages are about wisdom. The first is the wisdom of following godly people instead of following those who are more interested in idols. The foolishness of making this unwise choice can be seen in the verses between the two events of Rachael stealing the idols and Jacob telling his household to get rid of them. The second points to the glory of a wise person in how he looks and acts. The third gives an illustration on foolishness with the implication of how to be wise – by doing what my Master tells me instead of thinking my way is better.

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