“What does it mean to be wise?”
Ephesians 5:15-16 “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise”
1. WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE
A level results came out last Tuesday. But does passing your A levels make you wise? It certainly means you have the skill to pass exams, it normally says something or other about your memory, your knowledge and your intelligence – but all that falls a tad short of wisdom.
If you’ve ever heard someone say “I know I should give up smoking, but I’ll start next week” you will know that intellectual knowledge is no guarantee of wise living.
The criminal justice system aims to rehabilitate offenders through education. Sometimes the result is a reformed character, but sometimes it is simply a more knowledgeable & hence a more dangerous criminal.
Knowledge may be a part of wisdom but it is no guarantee of it.
2. WISDOM AND LOVE
There have always been those who have seen the Christian life as a variation on the Telegraph Crossword puzzle – a purely intellectual exercise. The Bible is a code to be cracked, the Church is Bletchley Park, and all you have to do is to sit and think and study until enlightenment dawns. But the Gospel can never disentangle the light of truth from the warmth of love. Significantly, the Hebrew word for “know” is also a word for ”love”. To be truly wise is to attend to others with loving attention and understanding. “Though I can penetrate all mysteries and knowledge, if I am without love, I am nothing”(1 Cor 13)
Jimi Hendrix once said “Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens” or, put slightly differently by Nobel Novelist Mahfouz Naguib, ”You can tell if a man is clever by his answers. You can tell if he is wise by his questions.”
Mind you, the questions of the truly wise are always asked in loving concern. You know the phrase “Love is blind.” But true love is not blind – Infatuation may be foolish and blind to the failings of the loved one. But true love is wise and knows the failings of the beloved and loves in spite of or even because of them.
3. WISDOM AND SUFFERING
And now we get deeper. If you would really know someone you need to love them, and if you would really love someone you need to share with them not only their joys but also their sorrows.
The Hasidic rabbi, Levi Yitzhak tells of two peasants in a Polish tavern. Both are gloriously in their cups. Arms around each other, they are protesting how much each loves the other. Suddenly Ivan says to Peter: ‘Peter, tell me, what hurts me?’ Bleary-eyed, Peter looked at Ivan: ‘How do I know what hurts you?’ Ivan’s answer is swift: ‘If you don’t know what hurts me, how can you say you love me?”‘
To be truly wise is to know and to love – and to share in the suffering of the one I love.
And this of course is the way of the cross.
And so in answer to the question what is it to live wisely, the answer is simply this – to live like Jesus, who is nothing less than divine wisdom incarnate, who knows us totally and loves us totally, who suffers alongside us – the one who combines perfect love and perfect understanding into perfect wisdom.
Prayer: I thank you, O God, for your all seeing and all loving wisdom,
which knows me for exactly what I am,
and yet sees exactly what – in your love and power – I might yet become.
O God, I offer myself in your service, that through your power
I may live wisely as I have been wisely loved. Amen.
Revd Andrew Sails