Proverbs 9:1-18 | Eleventh Sunday after Trinity B

John Michael Gutierrez, PhD

A Reading from Proverbs (9.1-18)

1 Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars. 2 She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. 3 She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city, 4 “Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says, 5 “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. 6 Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight.” 7 Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse. 8 Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. 9 Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning. 10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. 11 For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. 12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer. 13 Folly is an unruly woman; she is seductive and knows nothing.14 She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, 15 calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way, 16 “Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says, 17 “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!” 18 But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.

The Word of the Lord.

Proverbs 9:1-18

Please turn in your Bibles or tablets to Proverbs 9. You’ll find it on the library shelf next to the Psalms.  Year B of the Sunday Lectionary focuses on the Gospel of Mark. But you’ll have noticed the first four lessons in August’s Sunday lectionary have been from events in John 6 framed around the Feeding of the 5,000. And you’ll also notice this was the same event from Mark 6 read in July.  Our first lesson this morning from Proverbs will continue a kind of summer Eucharist-fest. 

We live in a time of unprecedented data, information and technological capacity. But do we live in an age of knowledge?  Do we live in a time of Wisdom, specifically, a time of observation and reflection applied to our life and conduct? 

When we open the Bible to Proverbs, we’re deep in the heart of everyday life. In ancient Israel, shared life in common with everyone in every village, was put under the heading Wisdom. In Israel, wisdom comes from hard won knowledge, from the difficult experiences of one’s life where the contrasts become obvious, after the push and pull of decisions become clear. In other words, Wisdom is the result of reflection built on what has been learned through many, many cycles of study, observation, mistakes, corrections and innovation.

So, Wisdom is more than the pursuit of information. Wisdom is information rightly applied. Wisdom is knowledge mixed with experience. Information helps you know a tomato is a fruit; wisdom helps you know not to mix it into a fruit salad. Knowledge gets you to the facts. Wisdom helps you to eat fruitfully. 

Now Wisdom in Israel has a starting place. So, let’s read vs.10 of Ch. 9 “The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding”. This is shorthand. Everything about wisdom in Israel will be pushed through the Sinai Covenant grid. The Sinai Covenant’s commands, instructions and stipulations enshrine the customs, habits, manners shaping hearts, minds and behavior in Israel. Anyone who would be wise in Israel begins by submitting to the highest authority YHWH, Sinai’s Holy One. And to be sure, it is eye opening to come face to face with YHWH. This is a real fear in the sense of awe, reverence, honor and trust. Fear honors YHWH as He really is – a Holy, Great King. “Fear” is the kind of fear desiring to live by His revealed will. Covenant Wisdom is the faithful handling of one’s affairs revealing the world for what it is not what we might want it to be. Or said this way, the fear of YHWH is about who a person is, what he/she does and how that is shown to a watching world.

The first nine chapters of Proverbs are in story form. So our first lesson this morning presents a drama of the most serious kind. Two meals in two houses are contrasted for the Simple, the Fool, the Scorner and the Wise. In the first meal (9.1-6), Wisdom is characterized as a gracious hostess with all preparations carefully planned and carried out. This meal is extraordinary, intimate, personal, satisfying and life giving. In the second meal (9.13-18) foolishness characterized as a seductive hostess sets the table with stolen bread and water bringing death to the guests. After hearing about Folly’s meal we should realize the stakes are high in accepting or rejecting Wisdom’s invitation.

A few words about the invited guests before we sit down at the table. In the larger framework of Proverbs, there are four commonly occurring characterizations. Each is found in our lesson this morning. There is the Simple, vs. 4a “Let all who are simple come to my house!” The Simple is an immature but teachable person. Then there is the person “who has no sense (vs. 4b) also named Fool or Gullible in Proverbs. This is a person with a track record of wrong choices. Then there’s the defiant Mocker or Scorner “Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse”. (vs. 7). This person is practiced in, committed to rejecting YHWH’s wisdom. And there’s the Wise, vs 9 “Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;  teach the righteous and they will add to their learning”. The Wise have a track record of lifelong learning. One never graduates from Wisdom’s university.

Wisdom in Israel teaches life’s education begins in the family home. In Proverbs Ch. 1-9, instruction is given by parents about how to come to know wisdom. A man is the faithful husband and teaching father. A woman is the faithful wife and nurturing mother. They speak with one voice as mediators of YHWH’s revelation. Together they are tasked with teaching Torah and its wisdom to a child, walking together through its instructions, commands and stipulations

In our lesson this morning wisdom and foolishness are portrayed as two women competing for the attention of the four characters. In Israel, it is the task of a wise mother to teach moral, ethical lessons, matters of the heart. A woman is the mother of the living and her task is to support life and oppose death. A woman who is a wise mother is the very best hope for the imprint of YHWH’s image on a child. The father’s voice In the background of our lesson describes Wisdom’s virtues and Folly’s attractions. The father is quite clear regarding the outcome of anyone who sits at the murderous Folly’s table “But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead” (vs. 18).

As I said a few minutes ago, in the first meal (vs. 1-6), Wisdom is characterized as a gracious hostess with the meal’s preparations carefully planned and carried out. This meal is extraordinary, intimate, personal, satisfying and life giving. In vs. 1-2 we read “Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table” The house is spacious, the meal prepared so she sends out her maids to issue an invitation “Let all who are simple come to my house!” (vs. 3-4). The invitation is worded in such a way there is no doubt those who accept will gain spiritual and practical insight “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight” (vs. 5-6). In this meal food becomes a symbol for learning the wisdom of YHWH’s goodness and greatness.

The one who dines with Wisdom must be teachable – open to YHWH’s Torah (10.8), – open to parent’s and other’s advice and criticism (13.10).  Wisdom is saying, “You are hungry, I have what you need to be filled. Let me nourish you.” The movement in the scene pictures the one who dines with Wisdom making a change in direction, that is, leaving aside the old ways and paths. Wisdom’s words give notice that change in direction will be a hard-won struggle – issues of character as much as of mind, of instruction, reproof, understanding, of insight, good sense, of shrewdness, discretion and knowledge. 

In order to frame the conflict wherein YHWH’s wisdom fights for supremacy in the public square of “lived experience” a competing meal is described in vs. 13-18. For the contrast, foolishness is portrayed as a woman sitting at the door of her house, perched on a seat also at the highest point of the city (vs. 14). Folly pitches her invitation to any who pass by “Let all who are simple come to my house! To those who have no sense” (vs. 15-16). But foolishness is deceptive. The hope is to change the direction of the teachable and cripple those who have a track record of bad choices. The meal’s preparations are not carefully planned or carried out – no set table, no meat, no wine, no investment. And the slippery words “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!” (vs. 17) convey the seductive idea throwing off the shackles of an antiquated belief system feels good. Wisdom, however, dances with boundaries whereas Foolishness hates and seeks to destroy them. In a sense Wisdom is counter-revolutionary offering things foolishness can’t: restraint and humility. Consumers of foolishness have to go looking for more and more forbidden boundaries in order to keep getting excitement and pleasure from misdeeds. Foolishness rejects covenant’s moral/ethical teaching to pursue the so-called “good things of life” in unhealthy and unholy ways. But know this – great is the fall of a life built on lies. Read vs. 18 again “But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead”. Folly’s house turns out to be a tomb from which no one who enters it is released 

So both Wisdom and Folly require discernment to make the right choice. Or to put it in the words of that great theologian Albus Dumbledore “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”.  Remember Wisdom in Israel falls under the Covenantal foundation of “the fear of YHWH”. Wisdom is, at its simplest, religious faith, a vocation: choices made, and behavior and tasks carried out in light of YHWH’s purpose in the world. To be “wise” is to choose to be a steward of YHWH’s covenant purpose for creation and community. The wise person chooses not to impose his/her will upon YHWH but chooses to impose YHWH’s covenantal instruction upon him/herself. Wisdom, therefore, is not a strategy for occasional use, like Tom Brady fourth and goal. A person without wisdom is a person without a home. This is why the two houses, the two meals are contrasted for the Wise, the Simple, the Fool and the Mocker. 

And in the wondrous, mysterious depth of scripture’s revelation there is another table in an upper room set with a meal for the Wise, the Teachable, the Fool and, if they would have it, the Scorner. To which we now turn. The Anglican Prayer Book resets this table for us in the liturgy called the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion commonly called the Holy Eucharist.  So please open your prayer books to the consecration prayer, pgs. 132-133.

At the heart of the prayer book are the instructions and forms needed to conduct the public service of the church. So it seems to me Anglican liturgical pattern and structure have been shaped to lead us as a community from this meal into a living encounter through scripture, tradition and reason. In other words, the liturgy challenges us to respond to what has been preserved for us tucked away in the words of the consecration prayer. In these lines and in between these lines, wisdom gives us this day a meal of more than bread/wine. Let me explain. The Lord Jesus, on the night before his death and resurrection, conquering sin and reconciling us to God, shared a meal with his disciples. The words in the prayer of consecration focus our attention on the Gospel’s gathering intensity (pg. 133). Notice the scripture’s rhythm of preparation and invitation “he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it, saying ‘take it, eat it’” and “he took the cup, gave thanks, gave it, saying ‘drink it’”. To electrify the intensity in the upper room, Jesus says, “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” Well He’s not talking about bread/wine anymore. This is deep, deep wisdom. This is a meal taking them into the divine presence. Anglican liturgy calls out to us to accept His preparation and invitation to receive the “bread of Life”, that is, his body and the “wine of the New Covenant”, that is, His blood. And when he said, “Do this in memory of me,” He meant it. The Eucharist liturgy means it too. It is an abiding, real remembering of real presence. In this meal food becomes a symbol for the wisdom of the Father’s saving love and mercy for the believing community. In making bread, grain must be ground, water poured then kneaded into dough. In making wine, grapes must be crushed, juices spilled, staining the winepress. It is only from many grains that one loaf is made, only from many grapes one cup is filled. And it is only from many people one Body in Christ is formed. The “Holy Communion” we celebrate is a “vertical” communion with the Lord and also a “horizontal” communion with each other. The Eucharist is sharing in the Lord’s death, resurrection and return so, it seems to me, those who would dine with Jesus must be willing to be transformed by his real presence. We must become like him like he became like us. No one is exempt. And, it seems to me, those who would dine with Jesus must be willing to reach out with reconciliation to those who are changing direction. Those who would dine with Jesus, it seems to me, must be willing to welcome and nourish those who come to this table. Lastly, it seems to me, those who would dine with Jesus humbly accept the preparation and invitation to this table (p. 135): We do not presume to come to this your table, O Merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your abundant and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table; but you are the same Lord whose character is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. 

And the beloved community says: Amen.

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