Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? These are rhetorical questions, by the way—yep, they had them way back in Bible days, too! And the answer is obvious. Of course she does! Wisdom is doing all she can to be heard over the noise of life. She stands on the heights, in the busy street intersections, at the front door; all of the busy places where we find ourselves. In all of those places where we find ourselves interacting with others, wisdom is there.
Wisdom does not just sit back passively and wait for us to find her; she is calling out to us, calling out to everyone that lives! The voice of wisdom is desperately seeking to be heard in a world that seems deafening with madness; it’s calling out to a world whose ears are full of what the world around us would have us to hear; it’s calling out to those who have plugged up their own ears with self-centered ideas of what is good and right.
But what exactly is this wisdom, this quality of God that is described as a virtuous, upright woman who stands in the public places of life and calls out to anyone who will listen? Isn’t wisdom something that we’re all born with? Isn’t wisdom one of those universal gifts that just come naturally? Or is wisdom just another word for knowledge?
According to our Proverbs passage, there’s something more to it. According to Proverbs, wisdom holds a special place among God’s creation. According to Proverbs, it’s much more than just some abstract concept.
So then what exactly is it? And how do we know what it’s saying? How can we discern the voice of wisdom apart from everything else we hear? To start with, I guess a basic definition is in order. The Hebrew word used here, hokmah, is commonly translated as “life skills.”
So it seems to be more than just knowledge; it’s more than just having a bunch of facts committed to memory. It’s a lifestyle! It’s a behavior! It’s a way that we respond to the world around us in our daily lives! I like what one of the staff said the other day; I think she saw it on a sign somewhere: “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing that a tomato doesn’t belong in a fruit salad.” I like that! It demonstrates that there’s a huge difference between simply knowing a fact and understanding how that fact applies in daily life situations.
Let’s take this thought a little bit further with something that’s a bit more important than a tomato. Now, I’m not parent, but I know facts about children. I know what one looks like, I know that they need lots of sleep, lots of liquefied food; I know they need to be cleaned up fairly often. But as of yet, I don’t have any life skills or experience with caring for babies. And what’s more, I wouldn’t be able to learn everything I need to know from a book. Sure, some of it can come from a book, but not all of it.
Much of it would just have to come from life experiences, from interacting, from understanding, from being in relationship with a child. I wasn’t a textbook baby, and I don’t think any of my friends were, either. And the parents I know today don’t get everything out of a book…it mostly comes from having a relationship with their children, from learning and understanding what’s best for them.
It’s really the same way with any relationship in life, actually. We don’t learn from books how to be friends, children, or co-workers—of course, there are books that offer advice, but there’s nothing as effective as being a friend, being a child, being co-worker—and understanding how to make these relationships work in the healthiest way possible.
So then what exactly is wisdom? It looks to me for all the world like wisdom is all about right relationships. I mean, isn’t that one of the most important life skills we can have? If we can’t we can’t get along with people, if we don’t engage in proper relationships with family, friends, co-workers—the people with whom we interact every day—then our lives are really just a living hell!
And our Proverbs passage—especially in some of the verses that we skipped over today, and I’d encourage you to read all of chapter 8 on your own—makes it clear exactly what wisdom is and how it is such an important part of our relationships with others.
In Psalm 111 we’re told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and in Proverbs 8:13, it tells us what constitutes the fear of the Lord: the hatred of evil, and of pride and arrogance, and perverted speech. Proverbs 8:20 says that wisdom walks in the way of righteousness—which is blameless conduct, integrity, justice, right actions, and right attitudes.
All of these words and ideas have to do with how we treat each other, how we treat ourselves, and how we treat God—and how we believe that God is treating us! Do we believe that God’s relationship with us is righteous, and blameless, and full of integrity and right actions? And are our relationships then with ourselves and with each other righteous and blameless and full of integrity? Or are our relationships wracked with pride, arrogance, perverted speech?
Wisdom goes on to describe what a perfect relationship looks like. The passage says how wisdom was in the beginning with God, even before the creation of the universe. Wisdom was beside God, as a master worker—one with great skill—taking part in creation. If this doesn’t sound like a perfect relationship, then I don’t know what does! This passage is overflowing with perfect relationship—perfect communion—as they are involved together in the creation of all that is. What an image, what a model for us in our relationships!
Because that’s what relationships are: creating something out of nothing. The voids in our lives are filled when we engage in godly, wholesome relationships. And in order for our relationships to be complete, in order for those voids to be filled, these relationships must take on three faces, three essences. A relationship with ourselves, a relationship with others, and a relationship with God.
To be in relationship with yourself, you must know and accept who you are. If you don’t love yourself, there is no way that you can love someone else. And where does this capacity to love ourselves come from? How can we look in the mirror each day, see this flawed body, remember the terrible things we’ve done in our lives, and still have love for ourselves?
That’s the gift of God; the Holy Spirit who dwells within each one of us—giving us the ability to do things that otherwise just wouldn’t be possible. As St. Paul says, it’s not just us; it’s the one who dwells in us who now lives and breathes and has its being. Thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit!
And with the gift of the Holy Spirit and the capacity to love ourselves comes the capacity to love others. And as you might remember from Maundy Thursday, this is a command from Christ himself. But, more than a command, his life—his human life, just like ours—is a perfect model of what loving others is all about. In Christ, we can have a vision of what a perfect relationship with others looks like. In Christ we can see ourselves—perhaps not as we are, but as what we can be. And perhaps, most importantly, we can see Christ in others (remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25 regarding caring for the poor: “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do it to me!”)
Do you think it’s a coincidence that in 1 Corinthians, Paul calls Christ the “wisdom of God”? No; Paul sees in Jesus the very embodiment of the wisdom found in Proverbs 8, who works with God in perfect communion toward the fullness of all creation. In Christ alone—in the wisdom of God alone—can we have right relationships with each other.
And what does a relationship with God do for us? I believe it goes right back to Proverbs 8:13: “The fear of the Lord is the hatred of evil, and of pride, arrogance, and perverted speech.” A relationship with God is a humbling experience; we acknowledge that there is something much bigger than ourselves. We don’t have all the answers; we don’t possess all the knowledge.
Yet everything we do is for God’s higher purpose. We don’t do justice and kindness and have integrity simply because they’re the right things to do; we do them because we understand—we have the wisdom and the insight—that this is what God wants in our relationship with Him and His creation. It pains God when we don’t treat His creation—all of it—with justice and kindness and integrity.
Why would we want that kind of strain in a relationship, with God or anyone? Our relationship with God in the midst of all this creative activity going on between us can be like wisdom is described—the master worker beside God, working with God, and delighting in everything around us!
Maybe this is what it means to be a Christian—a “little Christ” in the world: to be the wisdom of God in the world around us! And I’ll stress it one more time: this doesn’t mean that we have all the answers; it means that we strive to be in wholesome, meaningful relationships with all creation.
So here we have it, the three faces of wisdom; the three faces of right relationship; the three faces of the Holy Trinity itself! Our relationships—those with ourselves, empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit; those with others, commanded and embodied by Jesus Christ, and that with God, created and blessed by the Father and author of the universe—is just a small shadow of what the Trinity’s relationship is with itself and with its creation. The relationship of the Trinity reaches heights we can’t even imagine!
And today, Holy Trinity Sunday, you might be wondering why I didn’t spend the time trying to explain the Trinity; how one can be three and three can be one. Well, I’ll defer to the tomato statement I shared earlier: knowledge is knowing about the Trinity; wisdom is knowing you can’t explain the Trinity!
Or perhaps it’s better said this way: knowledge is knowing about the Trinity; wisdom is knowing the Trinity. Knowledge about God won’t bring about the relationships so desperately needed to fill those voids in our lives; only the wisdom of God can do that—the wisdom that are those life skills that bring us ever closer to ourselves, to others, and to God through the sacred work of the Holy Trinity. And with that wisdom, we come to know ourselves, each other, and the triune God; and we ourselves become master workers beside God, working together toward the wholeness of all creation. Blessed be Almighty God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.