Foolish Wisdom

Foolish Wisdom

Twentieth Sunday of the Year. Fr Bruno Clifton helps us to understand how the wisdom of God is made present in the foolish.

It is perhaps not a surprise to be told that many anti-religious and anti-faith people put our belief down to simple foolishness. We are the weak-minded who need support to get through the day.

Of course, if you remember, this is how Paul opens his first letter to the Corinthians. He acknowledges this tendency. In fact, this is the point of God’s appearance in the world, to expose foolishness. ‘Where are the philosophers now? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?’ (cf. 1 Cor. 1.18-31) Such an argument is a familiar one of Paul’s. But how convincing is it?

After all, wisdom is the thrust of the whole latter part of the Hebrew Scriptures – the “writings”. The point of Proverbs, for instance, is to encourage people in wise living: to teach us how to live well. Which, of course, should be the philosopher’s task.

But, where is the philosopher now? Where the philosopher was, was looking to God. And perhaps Paul finds little of this in Corinth.

I bring this up because of today’s encouragement to us weak-minded religious people in the book of Proverbs: ‘“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who is without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.”’ (Pv 9.4-5)

Our foolishness leads us to Wisdom’s banquet, but not to enjoy foolishness. It is rather to leave foolishness behind, ‘and live, and walk in the way of insight.’ (Pv 9.6)

This is the insight to live well: the banquet enables us to live well – which is to live abundantly. Because, of course, in order to live, we need to eat.

For a moment, consider what place is there for us with our weak minds? Often, a criticism of religion is that we engage in too much talk without evidence. And, certainly Paul too sees sophistry and human chatter as missing the point of God’s revelation. But we are missing the point that it is precisely God who has revealed anything at all.

This is reason why he is so pleased with the Thessalonians: ‘when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.’ (1 Th. 2.13)

The abundant life in God flows from his Word and not ours. But to live, we need to eat.

So, where do we experience the foolishness that leads us to wisdom’s banquet, when we leave behind our own words and go on to true wisdom that looks on God?

‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ (Jn 6.52)

Unlike the Thessalonians, the Jews listening to Jesus hear his words as their words, human words, as sophistry to hide a weak-minded opinion. And surely it is easy to refute with the evidence: how can he give us his flesh to eat?

Remember it is not our thoughts, but God’s thoughts, not our words, but those of God. (cf. Is 55.8-9) This is a Word higher infinitely above all creation.

And the Word became flesh.

The infinite uncreated wisdom we can reach out and touch.

As Jesus abides in God, so his flesh and blood is the banquet for those prepared to transcend their wisdom and become truly wise with wisdom herself in God.

This is not to abandon reason or ignore the evidence, but to put reason back where she should be: towards the goal of living abundantly, towards God in Christ, the source of reason.

So, in this talk of reason and evidence, I think the only place Wisdom asks us to look is at why the flesh of Jesus should be the banquet of abundant life. This question is not far from that of the Jews in the synagogue at Capernaum – how can he give us his flesh?

If we not only see, if we not only touch the Crucified one, now risen in glory, but we truly consume him, then the reality of his total, unifying love for us is experienced and not just talk. Not our words, but God’s.

‘As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.’ (Jn 6.57)

He came so we would have life and have it abundantly.

Readings: Proverbs 9:1-6 | Ephesians 5:15-20 | John 6:51-58

fr Bruno is Vice-Regent of Blackfriars Hall and Studium, Oxford, where he teaches Biblical Studies.