August 14, 2015

The Welcome Insult of Wisdom

Bread and Wine by He Qi
Wisdom has built her house, 
     she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
      she has also set her table.

She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls 
     from the highest places in the town,
“You that are simple, turn in here!” 
     To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
      and drink of the wine I have mixed.

Lay aside immaturity, and live,
      and walk in the way of insight.” (Proverbs 9:1-6)

Hey, stupid, come here!

How's that for a greeting? Nothing like getting someone's attention like insulting them. But, in Proverbs, when Wisdom speaks, she tells you like it is: Come, simple people, come get wisdom. Come immature children, come and grow up into maturity.

Wisdom and maturity are great themes. But once you realize that the calling is first to your lack of wisdom, and your lack of maturity, then it comes first as an insult, a bruise to the ego, a recognition that you are not as far along as you thought.

A lot of religious and spiritual talk seems to promote our own need to prove what we already know, or show off what we already have, or hold on to what we have already experienced. Wisdom, that great feminine expression of God in Scripture, says compared to what there is yet to know and have and experience, you are in infant, a simpleton, an immature child.

And that is the grace of it. Yeah, I know, it sounds like an insult. But it is an invitation to eat and drink up more. Only, if you don't know you're hungry for the food being offered, you'll eat at the same old greasy spoon, settle for the familiar, and claim your own accomplishments and status and knowledge attained already. And you'll never learn, grow, or mature beyond where you are right now.

Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.

There's some other food and drink, some nourishment and sustenance we need in this life. If we're going to get it, the first step is humility, admitting we don't have it, and naming and feeling the hunger we have for it.

I'm watching a lot of political news lately, most of which has been about Donald Trump. He recently spoke about his faith, and how he has never asked for forgiveness. He seems to be the kind of guy who always has to promote what he already has, how much he has accomplished, how great he already is compared to everyone else. He has no humility to say he needs something else in his journey of spiritual growth and maturity, which is probably why he seems not to attain it.

I'm thinking continually about our racial problems in America. It seems the first step for white Americans is to say we don't get it, we have some growth to do, we need to listen to experiences other than our own, we are hungry for what we do not yet have in relationship with African Americans and other persons of color. Without naming the deficiencies and feeling the hunger, not much healing, growth, or maturity can come.

Jesus comes on the scene in John's Gospel as the incarnate Word of God, the Logos in Greek. Many biblical scholars think that John was implying that Jesus was Wisdom from the Old Testament, but John couldn't find the right words to say it in Greek for various reasons, not the least of which was using feminine words to describe Jesus. Seems to have a been a non starter back then.

Jesus comes to his people in John's Gospel and brings both the recognition that people do not fully see God, do not yet eat the bread and wine of his self-giving love. So people respond by either feeling insulted and rejecting him, or saying: Give us this bread always. Then, he gives the bread and the wine of his very life for the whole world, so we might all be fed by the endless love of the divine.

Hey stupid, Wisdom is calling. Hey, immature child, God is calling you to grow up. Hey hungry one, Jesus is offering to fill us up with the very life of God. Instead of being insulted and getting defensive, hear the gracous invitation from God: There is bread and wine we have not yet tasted, and it is being offered freely. And the first step is to admit we need it. And the second is to enjoy it.

July 21, 2015


A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, "Give it to the people and let them eat."  But his servant said, "How can I set this before a hundred people?" So he repeated, "Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and have some left.'"  He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD. (2 Kings 4:42-44)

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.  A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.  Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.  Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.  When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?"  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him,  There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?  Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.  Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.  When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."  So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.  When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." (John 6:1-14)

Give it to the people and let them eat.

There isn’t enough. What will we do? How can we feed people if we don’t think there’s enough to go around? Just don’t. Put it away.

Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?

It was Jesus’ trick question. Philip fell for it. “Six months’ wages wouldn’t buy enough bread for each to get a snack.”

And then the bread breaking began. All the fears and worries, all the calculations and rationing, all looked ridiculous. When people break bread in thanksgiving to God, in the way of Jesus, unexpected abundance happens.

Most of us Westerners are schooled in the worldview of classical economics. Supply and demand. Scarcity. Not enough to go around. All commodities go to whomever has the most money. And the biggest one: The invisible hand of the market takes care of all.

Except when it doesn’t. Like when poor children don’t eat and their malnourished brains don’t develop properly. Like when impoverished countries go to war over bread. Like when people work forty, sixty, eighty hours a week a minimum wage and can barely pay rent, let alone groceries.

What do we make of Elisha’s “give it to the people and let them eat”? How do we hear Jesus’ act of going ahead with the feeding with meager provisions?

Humanomics. Yeah, I made it up. But what I mean is: Meeting human need even when we aren’t sure how the economics of it will work out. Not enough bread. Not enough money. We feel that every day. If we let that worry and fear and rationalism run everything, we would be even more cold hearted than we already are.

But occasionally prophets witness and compassion slips in. Occasionally Jesus speaks and people listen and bread is shared in crazy foolish ways. A few fish, too. Once in a while we rise above all the limitations on love and mercy that we have out of our endless anxiety over money and bread and we just do it. We feed people. We break bread together. We trust God enough to share.

Of course, there’s more going on in these stories than people being generous. There’s a divine blessing, a holy action, a mysterious multiplying of what we do to become something greater. I should probably make up a different word from  humanomics. I should probably make up a word like Godonomics. Or Jesusonomics. Or Lovonomics. How about faithonomics?

Whatever the word, the message for people of faith is pretty clear: Feed people, share bread. Befriend the hungry. Just do it. Trust the God of abundance, and scarcity will become scarce.