The Feast of Wisdom and the Kingdom of God
Ordinary Sunday 20: 19 August, 2018
Fr Philip Gill
Assistant Priest, St Peter's, Eastern Hill and Lazarus Centre Chaplain
Our Old Testament reading this morning is from Proverbs. In this reading wisdom is cast in the feminine and set in the domestic scene. The house is built, the feast prepared and the invitations sent out even — or especially — to the simple and the immature: "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed." But this feast is not one meant for the satisfaction of hunger for food or thirst for drink. People have other needs and among them is the desire to live wisely or to live well.
Wisdom can come from the most surprising places. Like the story of the young girl who was travelling along a country road with her parents. She encouraged them to stop at a farmer's roadside stall. He was selling watermelons. She jumped out of the car and made her way excitedly over to the stall. She loved watermelon. "How much is that big watermelon over there?" She asked the farmer. "You can have that one for $10.00." Her face fell in disappointment, "But I only have $2.50!" She told him. "Well," replied the farmer, "You can have that little one in the field for $2.50." "OK!" she said, feeling much brighter, "Here's the money, but leave it on the vine and I'll pick it up in a couple of weeks."
We all know the near impossibility of placing wise old heads on young shoulders. But is not just the young who find it difficult to accept the invitation to wisdom. There is a wonderful Michael Palin skit, a prologue to Tomkinson's Schooldays, in which he struggles hilariously to recite a quote attributed to GK Chesterton: "The follies of men's youth are in retrospect glorious compared to the follies of old age."
There are echoes of the gospel in the Old Testament reading from Proverbs. It is Jesus who models for us more than any other the life lived well. Not a life lived easily or "happily" but the life of ultimate meaning and purpose. And he offers us not just the bread and wine of wisdom but his body and blood as the bread of eternal life.
Reflecting on the invitation to the "life lived well" reminded me of one aspect of the Anglicare Victoria's Get out for Good program. This program prepares volunteers to accompany people released from prison as they seek to resettle into the community. I'm involved in the recruiting and training of volunteers. Volunteers will sometimes say they don't know what they can offer because they are not social workers, psychologists, chaplains or even very religious. Good, I say, we are looking for people who can model "life lived well" to those who have had it rough and yet have caught something of a vision of how things could be better.
During their preparation we ask volunteers to participate in something we call the modelling exercise. We ask them to reflect on people who have shown them qualities of the "life lived well" such as: non-judgemental care; positive lifestyle; good communication; resilience; reflective practice; reliability and cooperating with others. It is humbling to listen to the responses and to hear how we can help each other live life well.
For example, when I think of someone who modelled non-judgemental care for me I think of someone many of us will have known well. He was at one time an associate priest of this parish. Fr David Warner was a person I looked up to as a spiritual guide and priestly mentor. However I often found myself in turmoil before our meetings. I'm not going to tell David about that it's too trivial. I won't tell him about that it's too embarrassing. I won't mention that because he'll think I'm the worst priest in the world. Then I would sit down with him and everything would just pour out and he would listen carefully and with a level of interest that made me really feel cared for.
I am reminded that when Jesus was approached by someone in need he would ask what it was they wanted him to do. I would have thought it was obvious would need their ailments healed but he gave them the opportunity to give voice to their need rather than suppose the cure.
When I think of resilience I think of a man in his 20's with cerebral palsy. He has very limited control of his limbs and gets around mostly in a motorised wheel chair. He can and does walk but there's no telling where he will end up when he does. While I find it hard to understand what he says sometimes I found out really early it was not helpful to merely feign understanding he would always know if hadn't understood him. He loves nothing more than a good laugh and is as quick-witted as anyone. He is a keen West Coast Eagles fan. One day we were talking about the last week's game. I made one of my rare forays into AFL commentary when he piped up and said, "Gee, Phil. I'm glad you know more about the Bible than you know about football." There was just one of the many opportunities I have had to model resilience!
At the heart of Jesus' proclamation was the call to repentance. There is a danger that the call to repent has been over-spiritualised or over-moralised. To repent is to turn from our selfish and destructive tendencies toward the fullness of life we are called to by God. This turning must surely be the deepest form of resilience.
I hope that all of us have someone close who can help us to reflect on our lives and help us to do a bit better. This happens more than I might care to admit in our household. Most recently, while Fr Hugh was away one of our rostered preachers fell ill. This can't be helped and there are usually many competent people who can step in. But not for that Sunday which at the time was beginning to loom large on the liturgical horizon. "I'll have to preach," I told Jenny, my wife, "Everyone's away". She calmly responded "I'm sure someone can help". "No everyone's away, I'll have to do it!!" "Why don't you call Lynda and ask if she can help." "Lynda's already busy with interviews at College. I'll have to preach." "Just give her a call and ask." Eventually the fog lifted, I rang Lynda and she very graciously offered to help. The result was her great sermon last week. Thanks Lynda, but thanks also I thank Jenny who never gives up on inviting me along the wiser path.
I am reminded of the wisest path: Jesus says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Caring for each other non-judgementally, showing resilience and helping others to look at things from another perspective are, I believe, important examples of the acceptance of the invitation to the feast of wisdom. I recommend the modelling exercise as a way of discerning, sharing and giving thanks for those who have modelled wisdom to us. For us the wisdom that bids us into her house to feast finds fulfilment in the Christ, the bread of life, who invites us into the feast of God's Kingdom.