The Getting of Wisdom
1 Samuel 2: 18 – 20, 26; Luke 2: 41 – 52
In a world where wisdom is scarce can I learn wisdom?
The stories about Jesus’ birth and boyhood conclude with this commentary; “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.” [Lk 2: 52] Likewise the commentator in 1 Samuel says that the boy Samuel “continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with the people.” [1 Sam 2: 26]
Both Samuel and Jesus grow in stature and wisdom respectively. Wisdom and stature are not dissimilar things. Both Jesus and Samuel grow in favour with God and humans. It is true both did not enjoy the favour of those who protected their self-interest or exploited the marginalised. Those who sought God and longed for justice saw in both these men the promise of God. I am not suggesting that they were of equal stature. But both Samuel and Jesus played significant roles in promoting faith in God. Samuel helped keep the people faithful with prophetic words and wise leadership. Jesus called people into the Kingdom of God and bridged the gap between God and all humanity.
Yes, Jesus’ ministry was the greater, but both were significant leaders for God. What they had was wisdom. Wisdom is not the same as acquiring knowledge and being clever about things. Wisdom is the ability to successfully use knowledge to address the situations of life. Wisdom is not about oneself, but about others. William Wordsworth said, “Wisdom is often times nearer when we stoop than when we soar.” Humility is a major factor in the getting of Wisdom. The wise person does not think of themselves as better, rather they see others as worthy of their respect.
“The first key to wisdom is assiduous and frequent questioning. For by doubting we come to inquiry and by inquiry we arrive at truth.” So said Peter Abelard, a 12th Century scholar and theologian. It is not surprising that Luke tells us Jesus was found by his parents “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding”. [Lk 2:46f] Then we read that he went back with his parents and ‘was obedient to them’. Three important ingredients for the getting of wisdom emerge here: Jesus’ humility and discipline, his questions and his listening. We find some similar characteristics in Samuel. The willingness to obey, listen and learn. Wisdom is never matter of knowing a lot of things.
Wisdom is how we apply what we know to the life situations we face and
to what extent our actions are for the benefit of all rather than the benefit of self.
Wisdom is also about judging rightly. Wisdom has an ethical content. We’ve already hinted at this in talking about wise judgements being for the benefit of others. To be wise is also about knowing difference between right and wrong. I am deeply worried when I hear significant people talk about having made a mistake, when in fact they have acted unethically. And in the next breath they speak about all of us making mistakes. The implications is that we are no different to them. True we all have a list of mistakes we have made, but we all don’t have a list of unethical actions we have made. Acting unethically, immorally and criminally is not about making a mistake it is about the ethics, morality and criminality of the situation. The wise person understands the difference between right and wrong – the truth and the lie.
There is truth in the saying that wisdom is a gift of God. But I believe the gift is something we acquire or develop as we draw closer to God. We become wise especially when we learn from the life, teachings and ministry of Jesus. Wisdom is godly in that it is god-like for there is no greater wisdom than the wisdom of God. To be wise we must know God and ourselves. But as we seek to be wise by being humble, listening, questioning, learning we also seek the wisdom of others. We should remember that the knife of keenest steel requires the whetstone, and the wisest person needs advice. That is why humility is so important. How sad when people neither seek advice or listen or ask questions.
Edward Hersey Richards wrote:
The wise old owl sat on an oak,
the more he saw the less he spoke;
the less he spoke the more he heard;
why aren’t we like that wise old bird?
We enter another year with dramatic changes in our weather patterns; huge challenges regarding millions of homeless people; countries still warring and perfecting the arms race; politicians remain hell bent on preserving their own brand; technology undermining the community spirit; and, our circuses of sport and entertainment numbing our mental awareness. Therefore we must pray for wise leaders to emerge and seek godly wisdom. And we need wisdom in the Church.
It follows that when one is seen to be wise others will respect and hold you in high esteem.
The story of The Richest Man in the Valley [Stories for Sharing p. 118] may help us see these truths and how they may work out in our lives.
There was a wealthy lord who lived in the Scottish Highlands. He was more than richly endowed with this world’s goods and amongst his vast possessions was a stately mansion overlooking a beautiful valley. However there was evidence that he remained unfulfilled and was uncertain about himself. He lived alone and was possessed by his possessions, as one would be.
In the gate lodge at the entrance to his estate lived John, his herdsman and gatekeeper. John was man of simple faith and deep religious commitment. With his family he was a regular churchgoer. John’s faith was evident in his daily living and regular devotion. The lord of manor had caught glimpses of him reading the scripture and praying with his family at their dining table.
One morning the lord was looking out on the valley resplendent in the rising sun. He was enjoying his estate. Just then the doorbell rang. John wanted to see him he was told. So John was admitted. What’s the matter, John? He asked.
John looked embarrassed. My lord, he replied, could I have a word with you? He was invited into the study to speak in private. Sir, John said hesitantly, last night I had a dream, and in it God told me that the richest man in the valley would die tonight at midnight. I felt I should tell you. I hope, sir that you don’t mind.
Tut, tut, said the lord. I don’t believe in dreams. Go back to your work and forget about it.
John still looked uneasy. The dream was very vivid, sir, and the message was that the richest man in the valley would die at midnight, tonight. I just had to come to you, sir, as I felt that you should know.
The lord dismissed him, but John’s words bothered him so much so that he finally drove himself to the local doctor, his friend, for a check up. The doctor examined him, pronounced him fit as a fiddle and said he’d give him another twenty years.
The lord relieved but a lingering doubt caused him to invite the doctor around for dinner. They enjoyed a sumptuous meal together and shortly after eleven-thirty, the doctor got up to leave. When the lord asked him to remain on for another nightcap, he agreed.
Eventually midnight came and passed. The doctor left. The lord felt relieved that he; the richest man in the valley was still alive. He chuckled to himself about this silliness and superstition. And he muttered about that stupid John worrying him like that.
No sooner than he was in bed, when the doorbell went. It was twelve-forty. Going down he found a grief stricken girl at the door. He then recognised her. It was John’s daughter. Sir, she said, my mother sent me to tell you that my father died at midnight. The lord froze. It was suddenly clear to him who was the richest man in the valley.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 16/12/2018