In the Garden of Eden, humans are presented with a test, a choice between two trees. This familiar story is the beginning of a narrative pattern we see play out again and again throughout the biblical story. But why does God choose to test people? It may seem cruel or like he’s attempting to trap humans into making the wrong choice, but the biblical story is clear. God’s desire is to partner with humans, and these tests are opportunities for humans to return to the ideals of the garden despite our countless failures.
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In the well known parable of today’s gospel, the landowner goes out to secure laborers for the harvest. At the end of the day, all laborers are paid the same regardless of the time of day at which their labor began. Some complain that they worked from sunrise, while the ones who only began day’s end are paid the same. This has been a week of teachings on wisdom and riches…. what is today’s lesson?
Study of the Sacred Scriptures is a lifetime project. In a certain sense you can devote all your energies to the Gospels – or even just to one of them. There is so much richness and depth that it can leave you wanting more and more from the one book. And you might just not get around to the other books of the Bible. Sure, you might venture into the epistles of Paul, but never quite make it the other epistles, like the Epistle of Jude. Continue reading
Begotten, Not Created. The language of “begetting,” “created,” and the like has, historically, been the source of great controversies. Beginning at least as early as the apologist Justin Martyr (A.D. 125), Christians, almost without exception, identified Sophia/Wisdom in Proverbs 8 with Jesus Christ. This almost universal interpretation of the passage embroiled the church in controversy about the precise nature of the relationship between God and Christ. From the time of Origen (ca. A.D. 180) patristic exegesis interpreted Wisdom’s birth in Proverbs 8:25 as Christ’s continual coming into existence. Not all agreed with such understanding. Lead by the Alexandrian deacon Arius, a group called the Arians held that there was a time when the Son “was not” and thus the Son was created as God’s most exalted creature. They concluded this using Prov. 8:22, “the LORD begot/created me,” as their primary text. In contrast, orthodox Christians held that Christ was of the same substance as the Father, the true Son of God, and not a creature. Orthodoxy interpreted Prov. 8:22 by explaining that the ever-existing Son was “created” when he became incarnate. According to his second strategy, the “creation of Wisdom was actually the creation of Wisdom’s image in creatures as they were brought into being.” Continue reading
Place in Our Tradition. The Book of Proverbs can make an important contribution to Christians and Jews today.
- First, it places the pursuit of wisdom over the performance of individual wise acts. To seek wisdom above all things is a fundamental option and a way of life.
- Second, it portrays the quest as filled with obstacles. There are men and women who offer a substitute for the real thing; discernment is required.
- Third, the book teaches that acquiring wisdom is both a human task and a divine gift. One can make oneself ready to receive by discipline, but one cannot take so divine a gift.
- Fourth, wisdom is in the world but it is not obvious to people entirely caught up with daily activities. The instructions and the aphorisms of the book can free the mind to see new things. Christians will see in personified Wisdom aspects of Jesus Christ, who they believe is divine wisdom sent to give human beings true and full life.
- Yet there is a universal dimension to Proverbs, for in its attention to human experience it creates a link to all people of good will.
Wisdom. In the ancient Near East (ANE), people assumed that wisdom belonged to the gods, who were wise by reason of their divinity; human beings needed to have wisdom granted them by the gods. Many of the “beginning of the world” accounts found in surrounding ANE cultures depict creation in two stages. In the first stage, human beings lived an animal-like existence, without clothes, writing, or kingship (seen as proper governance). Over time, the gods came to realize that such a low-grade of existence made the human race inadequate as their servants, so they endowed the race with “wisdom,” which consisted of culture (e.g., kingship) and crafts (e.g., knowledge of farming, ability to weave). Such wisdom elevated the race to a “human” level and made them effective servants of the gods. Furthermore, divine wisdom was mediated to human beings through earthly institutions—the king, scribes (who produced wise writings), and heads of families (fathers, sometimes mothers). These traditional mediators appear in Proverbs – in fact, the book is credited to King Solomon. Throughout the book kings are mentioned as pillars of society (e.g., 16:12–15); writings are a source of wisdom (1:1–7); the father instructing his son is the major paradigm of teaching. Proverbs differs, however, from other wisdom books in concentrating on wisdom itself, treating it as a virtually independent entity and personifying it as an attractive woman. Other books urge readers to perform wise acts, but Proverbs urges them to seek wisdom itself and portrays wisdom as a woman seeking human beings as disciples and companions. Continue reading
The Spirit in Creation
22 “The LORD begot me, the first-born of his ways,
the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
23 From of old I was poured forth,
at the first, before the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
25 Before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
26 While as yet the earth and the fields were not made,
nor the first clods of the world.
27 “When he established the heavens I was there,
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
28 When he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
29 When he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
30 Then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
Playing before him all the while,
31 playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the sons of men. (Proverbs 8:22–31) Continue reading
My dad would occasionally remind me of the following wisdom: “Everyone you meet is your better because you can learn something from them.” They were words meant to remind you to keep your own accomplishments in perspective; celebrant them in the moment, build upon them, and learn from them – but do not set up camp and remain there. I suspect St. Francis would have liked my dad’s wisdom – he certainty understood its implications for the spiritual life. God accomplished so much through St. Francis – and Francis knew it was God’s doing and little of his own. Francis remained open to the working of God in his life and discerning the Spirit of the Lord.
Admonition Twelve: Knowing the Spirit of the Lord
1 A Servant of God can be known to have the Spirit of the Lord in this way; 2 if, when he Lord performs some good through him, his flesh does not therefore exalt itself, because it is always opposed to every good. 3 Instead he regards himself the more worthless and esteems himself less than all others.
There was once a trusting Franciscan guardian who took a young friar to live in his own lean-to down by the river. For the first week the friar was ecstatic – his prayer life blossomed and he really felt he had taken a major step on his journey to God.
At the end of the week, the young friar washed his one habit and put it out to dry. The next morning he was dismayed to find that some rats had torn his habit to shreds. So he covered himself as best he could, went to a nearby village and begged for another. A week later, after washing, the rats destroyed that habit as well. So, the young friar got a cat – and presto – rat problem solved. But he found he had to beg for milk for the cat. And all the begging was taking away from his life of prayer. So he got a cow; but of course the cow needed hay. And he needed fields to grow the hay and a barn to store the hay. And that took away from prayer time and his journey to God. So he hired people to farm and tend the animals, but then he found he was the de facto mayor/sheriff/paymaster of a small village. So he hired village administrators and a small police force. And there were town meetings – and on and on the story went. Continue reading