During the past few weeks, I’ve spent a fair amount of energy thinking about “wisdom.” That makes sense, of course, because the primary preaching focus this past two weeks, and the next two, is on biblical wisdom literature.
One of the things that has struck me is how both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are really about simple common sense The ‘wisdom’ each passes on is not grounded in prophetic utterances nor messianic hope. There is, however, a shared sense that the world is what it is, and one would be wise to understand and live within its bounds. And to do so starts with following common sense.
Each book comes at it from different perspectives: Proverbs as wise instruction to young men preparing to make their way in the world; Ecclesiastes as the musings of an older teacher who ignored common sense and pursued riches and achievement and personal pleasure. And despite achievement, success, and excess, he finds himself jaded and disillusioned. Where Proverbs assumes that the world is wide open for the taking; Ecclesiastes counters that seeking pleasure, accolades, and accomplishments for their own sake are ‘hevel’ — as fleeting as vapor; as permanent as mist.
Where Proverbs is idealistic and hopeful; Ecclesiastes is reflective and somber. Together, however, they offer a clearer picture of what it means to live life as God intended. What’s more, both paint a realistic picture of the world as it is: bad things happen, injustice is real, things don’t always turn out like we planned.
But together they offer a clear common sense vision of how to live life together as church. When we celebrate the gifts that God has given us, when we live our lives together for the sake of each other and the neighbor, then we are blessed. Yet when we place our collective attention on things other than God’s good gifts — political and personal agendas, power and influence, barriers and judgment — then the results will be, once all is said and done, nothing but ‘hevel.” Nothing but fleeting smoke and formless mist.
Of course, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are but two of the Bible’s 65 books. They provide important insight, but not the final word. That comes from the Word made flesh, Jesus the Christ, who comes to us through the gospels and epistles and other writings of New Testament and Old; through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and through the communion of the Holy Spirit which is the church.
We would be wise to keep that in mind.