The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15, 19 August 2018

Track One:
I Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111


Track Two:
Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34:9-14

Ephesians 5:15-20
St. John 6:51-58

Background: Wisdom

The Greeks had two separate notions of wisdom. The one was Sophiawhich is translated as wisdom. The other was phronesis or prudence – a kind of practical understanding of the world and self. In biblical literature we meet the former as an entity related to the divine, and the latter in observations of life and living. The cosmic understanding of wisdom is seen in all the cultures of the Ancient Near East. In Mesopotamian traditions, the god Enki, or Ea, was the deity aligned with wisdom and understanding. Such wisdom assured balance in the world. Egyptians saw that balance and wisdom in the goddess Ma’at, represented by the hieroglyph of a feather.

Egyptians also valued wisdom in the guise of Sia the personification of wisdom. The Egyptian story, The Story of Sinuhe,represents how wisdom literature was found all over the ancient world. 

In the Hebrew Scriptures the word for wisdom hokmais found in 222 instances. It was valued as a penultimate virtue along with kindness and justice. A great number of these instances are in the Proverbs and the Psalms. Followers of Track One will find the story of Solomon as having a great relationship with the idea of wisdom. Sophia also makes its way into Christian thinking as well, especially in Paul, see I Corinthians 1:17-31. The great church in Constantinople, the cathedral of Saint John Chrysostom, Hagia Sophia, sees in Jesus Christ, the Sophia, the Wisdom of God. To see wisdom in biblical literature do some reading in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Psalms, I and II Corinthians, and the book of James.

Track One:

First Reading: I Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”

The epic of David’s leadership and kingship draws to a close. You may be interested in reading Chapter 1to familiarize yourself with the political and social problems that accompany this transition of kingship from David to Solomon. The small selection from Chapter 2 indicates to us that David is indeed dead, and that he had a full reign of an indefinite number of years. The number 40 should not be taken seriously, but rather as a symbol of the completeness of David’s rule.

The initial verses, 1 and 2, are elided from the liturgical text, but seem to modify what is ascerted in verse 3, “And Solomon loved the Lord.” There are complexities in place as his reign begins – the marriage to a daughter of the Egyptian pharaoh, and the note that “people were sacrificing on the high places,”perhaps an implication of syncretism, the local Canaanite religion along with the worship of YHWH. Regardless, Solomon takes his throne in difficult times. Solomon too worships at the high places and sets the stage for this vision of God that follows in the remaining verses of the reading. Here Solomon asks for wisdom and understanding, nothing more and nothing less. In this we see the wisdom of Solomon, which is made more clear in the story that follows this one in Chapter 3. 

Breaking open I Kings:
  1. How would you characterize David?
  2. In what ways is Solomon different?
  3. From where do you seek wisdom?

Psalm 111 Confitebor tibi

1      Hallelujah!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2      Great are the deeds of the Lord! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.
3      His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4      He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
5      He gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6      He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.
7      The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
all his commandments are sure.
8      They stand fast for ever and ever, *
because they are done in truth and equity.
9      He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever; *
holy and awesome is his Name.
10    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.

This is a psalm of praise or thanksgiving formed in a short acrostic form, each half verse representing a letter of the alphabet. The scene expands as a greater number of people, first the assembly and then the entire congregation witness the thanksgiving that the psalmist makes. What follows is a recollection of all (not just some particular) deeds that God has done. This matches the completeness of the assembly that gives thanks, and the completeness of God’s deeds given to God’s people. The final verse touches on the wisdom subtext of the readings for this Sunday, “The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom.” The people who partake of God’s wisdom “have a good understanding.” The result of this complete world of wisdom and understanding is the praise of God.

Breaking open Psalm 111:
  1. What has God done for you?
  2. What kind of wisdom do those deeds give you?
  3. What wisdom do you wish you could share with your community?


Track Two

First Reading: Proverbs 9:1-6

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.”

There is a contrast in this chapter of the graces of Lady Wisdom, and a competing invitation from Lady Folly. The seven columns with which Wisdom builds her house represent the completeness and fullness seen in the number seven. Not only is it held up, it is made whole by its design. She sets up a luxurious feast with meat (not had in a common everyday meal) and fine wine. Her servants go out to find guests, which will be mirrored in the Jesus’ parables regarding the wedding feasts which some refuse and the common are gathered. That same notion is held here as the foolish and simple are invited to share in the bread and wine of Wisdom. We are, all of us invited to “walk in the way of insight.”

Breaking open Proverbs:
  1. What does completeness or fullness mean to you?
  2. How is your faith complete?
  3. What additional wisdom do you need?

Psalm 34:9-14 Benedicam Dominum

9      Fear the Lord, you that are his saints, *
for those who fear him lack nothing.
10    The young lions lack and suffer hunger, *
but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.
11    Come, children, and listen to me; *
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12    Who among you loves life *
and desires long life to enjoy prosperity?
13    Keep your tongue from evil-speaking *
and your lips from lying words.
14    Turn from evil and do good; *
seek peace and pursue it.

Here we continue the psalm that was sung or said last Sunday. Again a reminder of the supscription that accompanies this psalm, “For David, when he altered his good sense before Abimelech, who banished him, and he went away.” It would also be good to remind ourselves of the closing verse of last week’s reading of the psalm, “O taste and see that the Lord is good,” for the theme of need and want which is supplied by God is continued in today’s reading. That the righteous are fed and protected, and that the wicked are punished is the backgound upon which the psalmist paints a picture of morality and good living. There is learning, and there is speaking. The learning is to come from God, and the speaking is to express goodness, the tongue and lips kept from dishonesty and evil. What a lesson is this for our time. The axis is this: evil and peace. We are bidden to choose our direction carefully.

Breaking open Psalm 34:
  1. What are your needs?
  2. Describe your abundance?
  3. Where is your life heading?

Second Reading: Ephesians 5:15-20

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Even though the second reading for these Sundays are a lectio continua that may or may not be related to the themes of the other readings, this reading from Ephesians fits in nicely with the theme of Wisdom.“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.” Paul’s understanding of the times and seasons that were manifest for the Ephesians made for living life in the midst of difficulty and challenge. We can relate to that. So he sets up foolishness and wisdom and asks us to make a choice. There are delightful contrasts: drunkenness and the Spirit, and foolish talk and hymns. We are asked to give thanks, and to get back to the life lived in Wisdom and understanding – that is a life in Christ.

Breaking open Ephesians:
  1. In what ways have you been foolish?
  2. How was the foolishness cured?
  3. Who has taught you wisdom?

The Gospel: St. John 6:51-58

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Our series on Jesus as the bread of life continues. In his continuing commentary on the bread of life, Jesus contrasts the manna offered to Israel, which lead to death, and the bread that (like the manna) comes down from heaven (which unlike the manna) which leads to life. Jesus reiterates his difficult claim, “unless you eat the flesh, (unless) you drink (the) blood”, and reaps the misunderstanding and offense of the Jews that area accompanying him. These ideas are abhorred by the Torah (see Leviticus 17:1419:26, and Deuteronomy 12:23), and Jesus’ audience reflects those beliefs. The eucharistic reference here is unmistakable, and it leads to a sense of completeness, an abiding with the Father and the Son in Wisdom and understanding. It is about incorporation, and not about nutrition such as they had in the wilderness. I am moved to close these notes with the Panis Angelicus of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

The Bread of Angels 
now is Bread of man. 
Heavenly Bread 
fulfills what prophecies foreshow. 
O wondrous thing! 
God is consumed 
By the poor, the humble, and the low. 
You, threefold God and one, we pray:
Be present as we worship well. 
Lead us on Your pathways 
To live in glory where You dwell.[1]

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What do you find disturbing in the Eucharist?
  2. What do you find comforting in the Eucharist?
  3. What is Jesus’ point about the manna?

Departure Point:                  Wisdom in the Bread

Point One:                             Where do we find Wisdom in our world? (First Readings)
Point Two:                            Where do we see foolishness in our own lives and world? (Psalms)
Point Three:                          What does the Eucharist incorporate us into? (Gospel)
Point Four:                            In light of that, or living with that, how then should we act? (Second Reading).

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller

[1]       Anerson, R. and Moser J. ed. And trans. (2000), The Aquinas Prayer Book: The Prayers and Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas, Sophia Institute Press, Manchester, page 95


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