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Feast with Wisdom
Summer Quarter: Many Faces of Wisdom
Unit 1: Wisdom in Proverbs
Sunday school lesson for the week of June 28, 2020
By Rev. Ashley Randall
Lesson Scripture: Proverbs 9
Key Verse: Proverbs 9:6
To understand the transformation of our world that is possible when we enter into intimate fellowship with God’s wisdom
Life around the Table
Competing in triathlons has helped me sustain my focus on maintaining my physical conditioning over the last few years. Swimming, biking, and running were all activities I had practiced since I was a kid. For me, the combination of these three sports has helped me avoid most of the injuries that some aging single-sport athletes experience.
I have found the variety of physical challenge also benefits my mental health. Exertion causes the body to release endorphins. The results include an improved sense of well-being, clearer thinking, and more restful sleep.
Many athletes report similar results. These benefits alone would be enough to keep me committed to this discipline, but there is another benefit that is even more rewarding than the physical and mental consequences – one I am even more aware of now that I am missing out on it during the pandemic.
Prior to the shutdown precipitated by the pandemic, I was a part of a group of people who gathered at 5:30 a.m. two or three days a week at the Chatham County Aquatic Center. That early in the morning, our greetings aren’t much more than a few mumbled “hellos.” There is not much conversation for the next hour or so while we are churning out the laps. We do have a brief opportunity to chat in the locker room as we prepare to go to work, but what has made this a valued part of my routine is what happens on Friday.
Friday is the morning when a group of us make the short trip to Midtown Deli to gather around tables and share a meal. It may not be much more than a bagel and a cup of coffee (the best bagel you can buy in Savannah; mediocre coffee), but the fellowship is what has transformed us from a diverse group of strangers into a family.
We talk about what is happening around town, across the county, and around the world. We celebrate the birth of kids and grandkids. We discuss upcoming competitions. We coordinate how we will provide a meal for one of our group who has a health challenge. We discuss questions of meaning and purpose. We comfort one another on occasions of grief. Sharing a meal around a table – week after week – has created a fellowship that has enriched my life.
I could share a similar story about the group of friends I run with two or three days a week. We run for about an hour or so, but what keeps us coming back (and what I am deeply missing right now) is the time we spend in conversation over a cup of coffee when the miles are completed.
Invitation to a Feast
In Proverbs 9, Woman Wisdom has moved beyond the invitation to come and learn from her to come and eat with her. She has prepared a sumptuous feast (almost sounds like “Beef Bourguignon”). What might have looked like an offer to take a desk in Wisdom’s classroom has become an invitation to take a seat at the banquet table in her home.
Notice the description of her home, as well. She has worked to build it. It has seven pillars. These images suggest that her home has a stable foundation – perfectly stable when we note the significance of the number seven. Wisdom’s home is the ideal dwelling place with no flaws or defects.
Previously she has proclaimed her invitation from prominent places in the public sphere – the city gate, along the main road, from the highest point in the city. In addition, this time Woman Wisdom sends out her servants to make the invitation known to even more people.
The nature of this invitation reminds me of the parable Jesus tells in Luke 14:16-24. In that parable a man prepares a meal, sends out an invitation, but then hears that many of his invited guests have made excuses for why they are unable or unwilling to accept. At that point the man instructs his servants, “Go quickly to the city’
s streets, the busy ones and the side streets, and bring the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.” Even after this expanded invitation, there is still room around the table, so the man sends his servants out again. “Go to the highways and back alleys and urge people to come in so that my house will be filled.”
In Proverbs, Woman Wisdom issues her invitation to the “simple” and to “those who have no sense.” Today that characterization might lead us to think that she is inviting those who are impaired or who have some mental disability. Certainly, those people are welcome at Wisdom’s table. We might also entertain the idea that Wisdom’s appeal is to those who are teachable – those who are open to receiving instruction. They are not arrogant or proud. Their thinking may be naive or immature; but they are open to learning and can benefit from what Wisdom has to offer.
It is essential that you remember that this is an invitation to a feast. It is not an invitation to a workshop, a study group, or a seminar. “Come, eat my food, and drink the wine I have mixed” (9:5). Sharing a meal is intimate fellowship with another. Furthermore, it is not just fellowship with Wisdom; it is fellowship with all those who gather at Wisdom’s table. This fellowship creates a community. This fellowship leads one to “walk in the way of understanding” (9:6b). This fellowship leads to life.
Different House, Different Table
Proverbs 9:13 reminds us that there is another woman in another house who is offering another invitation. She is Folly. We have been introduced to her before. We have been warned about her.
Folly is an unruly woman. She is undisciplined, impulsive, obnoxious. Nevertheless, she calls out from her prominent location in the public sphere. She issues her invitation to the same “simple” folk who wander by her house. She attempts to entice those who pass by with the promise that her meal is “sweet” because it has been obtained unscrupulously – it’s stolen. She hasn’t worked for it or paid those who produced it. It costs her nothing to share. And there is no sense of shame in how she acquired it; indeed, there seems to be a sense of perverse pride in that she beat the system.
The writer of Proverbs seems to admit that her invitation is not only compelling, but convincing. Indeed, there are those who have accepted her invitation. What is not apparent to those who are passing by is the fate of those who have accepted her invitation. “Her guests are in the depths of the grave” (9:18b). Folly’s invitation is the path to destruction, despair, and death.
Folly has no interest in building a community that values our relationship with God and our neighbor. Folly is all in on satisfying our insatiable appetites. Folly is not committed to establishing a community where people are honest and truthful in their dealings with one another, but twisting the truth and telling lies to create confusion, division, and chaos. Rather than treating people with respect, acknowledging every person’
s right to fair treatment without bias toward them because of their race, age, or status, Folly encourages pursuing narrow self-interest for short-term gain. Folly is always looking for a way to profit from another’s misfortune and shows no remorse.
Extending Wisdom’s Table
The world pandemic has illuminated some of the vulnerabilities, inequities, and disparities that exist around the world. Some see these challenges as consequences of the globalization of markets and the unbridled pursuit of profit-maximization. The challenge of recovering from this crisis has prompted a number of people who believe that challenges and uncertainties can pave the way for innovative solutions to engage in conversation. One of those persons is Kailash Satyarthi.
Kailash Satyarthi was born in India and studied to become an electrical engineer. In 1980 he gave up his career and founded the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement) – committed to ending child labor, slavery, and trafficking. To date he and his team have liberated nearly 100,000 children in India. In 2014 he was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Malala Yousafzai, “
for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”
Over the past few months Satyarthi has been contributing to the conversation about how the citizens of the world might establish a “compassionate economy.” “The state response to fighting the pandemic, reviving the economy and protecting law and order are all fine. However, equally important is the emotional response while dealing with the most vulnerable.”
Satyarthi proposes a four-tier approach to help us deal with the challenges our world faces. It is based on four elements: Compassion, Gratitude, Responsibility and Tolerance. “I am proposing nothing new here. All these elements are already present and are rooted as basic human values across cultures and religions. The attainment of liberty, dignity, justice, equality, sustainability and peace should be the key goal of our civilization. These are not merely ideals and principles but are achievable realities.”
First, he advocates for the “globalization of compassion.” At its essence he is appealing to each of us to “feel others’
pain and suffering as our own” – to acknowledge the humanity of the marginalized and excluded and then to reorder our priorities to alleviate their suffering and improve their situation.
Secondly, Satyarthi challenges each of us to build a “supply chain of gratitude.” “From the moment we are born to using food, water, clothing, housing, education, health, entertainment, security and all other facilities, there is someone’
s contribution in every wake of life. Business leaders in their boardrooms and politicians in parliament should feel grateful for the hard work and sacrifices of many others in contributing to their wealth and power. I strongly feel that building a supply chain of gratitude is essential for cultivating mutual respect, love and harmony in all facets of life.”
The third element is the creation of an “Internet of Responsibility.” As John Donne said, “No man is an island.” Our problems and our solutions are all interconnected; we must acknowledge and practice living with shared responsibility.
Satyarthi’s fourth element is “creating a Universe of Tolerance. Intolerance has been the most common reason for clashes within civilisations. On the other hand, tolerance has nurtured co-existence among diversities and differences.” It is principle of adopting a stance of humility rather than insisting on pride and arrogance.
Satyarthi adds that political leaders, citizens, and consumers must realize “that universal human rights are not merely guiding principles, but enforceable realities and essential conditions for justice, inclusion, harmony and peace.”
In closing one of his op-eds, Satyarthi says, “
There is no substitute to a shared future of humankind. How we shape it is up to us.”
The kind of community God desires is not an impossible dream. It is within our grasp, if we will allow God’s wisdom to guide our thoughts and actions. Our goal must be to know God and God’
s ways more fully and to commit ourselves to follow the path of righteousness, the way of wisdom – to “
walk blamelessly.” People of faith must value community as a place where the presence of hope, peace, and joy flourish.
Wisdom invites us to feast at the table. Will you invite others to join you there?
How have you experienced the transformation that occurs when people share a meal together?
What is one lifestyle change you could make to reduce the “noise” that keeps you from hearing Wisdom’s invitation to her table?
Why is Folly’s invitation still so persistent and persuasive?
How do Satyarthi’
s four elements align with your understanding of God’s wisdom?
Rev. Ashley Randall is the pastor of Garden City UMC. He is working with a group of faith leaders across Chatham County to help establish the Savannah Area Interfaith Justice Ministry as part of the DART network of congregation-based community organizations (thedartcenter.org). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read more:
“Globalizing compassion amidst COVID-19
” by Kailash Satyarthi, Friday, 27 March 2020
“The need for a compassionate economy to protect vulnerable communities
” by Kailash Satyarthi, Monday, 4 May 2020