Lectionary: Proverbs 1:20-27; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-9; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
The Lectionary passages today carry a common theme of Wisdom. In the copied readings below, Wisdom is calling us to leave aside our own simple thoughts and to yearn for what she has to impart to us.
In the second reading below, James reminds us that our infatuation with sharing our own words is not the best way – and can even be dangerous.
All these passages consider true wisdom to be a rare but beautiful thing: listening better than speaking; learning preferable to teaching; passivity safer than opinion.
Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech:
“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
But since you refuse to listen when I call
and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
since you disregard all my advice
and do not accept my rebuke,
I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you. – Proverbs 1 (NIV)
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. – James 3 (NIV)
We often think of wisdom as some sort of mystical, inner force that begins in our deep thoughts and plays out in furrowed brows and soft, gently measured words.
While that can be true, the reality is that most of us are over confident in our own wisdom and are all too anxious to share that wisdom. Sometimes when we’re asked, sometimes even when not asked.
Just listen to conversations people around you have: often they talk over the end of other people’s sentences; there are rarely thoughtful pauses between questions and answers; sometimes it seems as though they don’t hear each other at all. Monitor yourself to be more aware of how one-sided or assertive you are, too.
These verses advise us that we should be reluctant to give advice and slow to speak, realizing that our words have both a greater and lesser weight than we can understand or manage.
Am I too anxious to interject my perspective, my ‘wisdom’ into conversations?
Do I fully understand the various perspectives and background of a subject before sharing an opinion? Walk a mile in the other person’s shoes, so to speak.
Do I need to cultivate a first response of listening, hearing, considering, before I share my thoughts?
Is there a place within me for listening and empathizing only?
Psalm 19 (Slowly, reflectively, as a prayer.)
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.