THE WISE AND THE FOOL
Proverbs 1:20-33, Psalm 19, Mark 8:27-38
September 14, 1997 by Tad Mitsui
I once had a colleague who came from Cape Breton Island. She told me that there were eight Gaelic words meaning "fool." They were all graded, from the ordinary kind found everywhere to the absolutely hopeless case. According to her, the worst fool in Gaelic means an "arrogant and stubborn old man." The book of Proverbs lists two kinds of fools. My Bible has two words – "simpleton" and "scoffer". Others versions use words like insolent one, brazen one, ignorant one or one who mocks. It shows that there are many kinds of fools. However, a common feature in all of them is their inability to hear the voice of wisdom, either because of stupidity or of their arrogance.
I heard of a man who drove around and around the gas station that sold cheap gas until the tank was empty, so that he could fill it with cheap gas. He thought he was being smart, I guess. And the worst foolishness is an inability to hear the voice of wisdom. "Fools despise wisdom and instruction." says Proverbs. On the other hand, the truly wise person fears God. Proverbs says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." When you respect God, many human attributes fade into the background. In other words, a wise person is humble and sensitive enough to be able to listen and to see things beyond the surface. Humility enables one to discern wisdom despite appearances. On the other hand, a fool can not see beyond the surface.
If you fear God, you find wisdom everywhere. Proverbs describes wisdom by saying, "She cries out on the streets, in the town squares, and in the market places. But fools do not see her nor listen to her." When I was working for the church offices in Toronto, I used to change street cars at the intersection of College Street and Yonge. On that corner , there was a street preacher – a big black man with a beautiful baritone holding a placard that said, "God loves you." His booming voice could be heard on every corner of that noisy and busy intersection. He said simple things like "Repent. The end is near." Or something like that. Of course, nobody paid any attention to him including me. I was too embarrassed.
Imagine the same kind of a scene played at the market in St. Chrysostome on Friday afternoon? Of course, it might also be a fraud, someone who”s out to get you, maybe into some strange cult or suck you dry of money. You must be careful. Imagine that it is a woman who is crying out, "Repent." A woman, especially a woman, is not expected to do things like that….unless she is a well-known high profile person like Mother Teresa. They can get away with it, because of the special status we accord them. If it is an ordinary woman, probably we would look at her as though she was crazy. Maybe I am reading too much into Proverbs and making a big deal out of wisdom being referred to as a woman. A ship is referred to as "she", so is a country. Many people call their countries the "Mother land". Maybe it is significant. I, for one, think that Proverbs has very a important message to give us by referring wisdom as a woman.
When those Proverbs were written a few thousand years ago, the status of women was much lower than it is today. Women were virtually men”s properties. In such a situation, there had to be some important reasons to refer to wisdom in female terms. By presenting wisdom as a woman – a most unlikely metaphor in those days – it is saying that it would take a considerable amount of humility and open-mindedness to see something extremely important and valuable. If you truly respect God, you will be so open-minded as to see truth beyond any unlikely looking surface. Also when men see women, they often see only their appearances and can not see beyond sex. There is, of course, nothing wrong with appreciating someone”s appearance. What is wrong is men”s inability to simply acknowledge beauty, let go of it, and then see beyond the surface.
There was once a highly respected monk, known for his devotion to meditation and his wisdom. Many young men became his followers. One day, the sage was reading the Holy Scriptures quietly in the woods. Some of his disciples joined him in this meditation exercise. In the course of the day, a beautiful woman came for a walk in the woods and passed by those monks. The sage lifted his eyes and watched the woman as she passed by. He resumed his meditation after she disappeared from his sight. The disciples were very upset. They were very disappointed with their master for even looking at the woman during a meditation and told him so. But the sage said to them, "Can you not let go? Why should beauty bother you? Poor foolish souls. It is wonderful to appreciate the beauty of nature and the wisdom of God”s words." By referring to wisdom in the female terms, the writer of Proverbs challenges us to see truth beyond what is sometimes superficially attractive, as much as behind an unlikely or even ugly facade.
In Proverbs, wisdom expresses righteous anger towards people who do not see nor listen to her voice. People do not heed her warning, because meeting wisdom on the street is, at least, inconvenient, mostly annoying. When Peter was asked by Jesus who he thought Jesus was, he gave the right answer. But as soon as Jesus started to tell him the suffering and death that awaited him in Jerusalem, Peter was very annoyed. He scolded his master for saying such nonsense. It was impossible that people would reject the messiah whom they were waiting for, and make him suffer. Peter could not see the true nature of God”s love. He expected the good to meet an happy ending. He could see the end of the story of the prince of peace only in terms of "And he lived happily ever after." Peter is not any different from the rest of us. However, the anger Jesus showed to Peter at that moment was quite exceptional. He called Peter "Satan" for seeing things in a human way not in God”s way. It was just like the anger of wisdom in Proverbs.
God”s wisdom can be found often in the most unlikely places. Mother Teresa found God in the slums of Calcutta. I don”t know how many of you have actually seen slums in some of the poor countries. The worst slum I have ever seen was outside of Nairobi, Kenya called Mathare Valley. About a million people lived there, in an area about the size of Chateauguay. Skeleton like figures were walking about like living corpses in rags. Stench from all sorts of waste was unbearable. There was ankle deep mud everywhere. I could not stay there too long. And yet Mother Teresa took the hands of those dying in such a bog of human misery and looked after them in their last days of their lives. And there, she said, she "touched the face of God."
The wisdom of God is found by people who can see beyond day-to-day superficial values. This is why Paul said, "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. For the God”s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom." God”s wisdom is beyond our wisdom. You may think it is impossible for us to attain such divine wisdom. Even Peter could not see it. You may think that it is only Jesus who could. And I say we can. In love, divine wisdom and our understanding come together. Think of Mother Teresa, think of any mother, who sees potential beyond the appearance of an awkward child. We can hear divine wisdom everywhere in the logic of love. Maybe that”s another good reason to describe wisdom as a woman.