4 Opposites Reveal WisdomFr. Barnabas Powell
OK, it’s a great scene: Indiana Jones and his dad have reached the cave where they believe the Holy Grail has been hidden. But, to get to the treasure Indy has to pass some tests. As he approaches the first test, he remembers the words of warning “Only the penitent man will pass.” As he approaches the test, he says that the penitent man kneels before God, and he kneels at the right time! Anyway, it’s a great scene and one of my favorite movies!
Our lives are very much like that scene: life can be filed with pitfalls and traps that many times we just don’t see coming. But then, when we trip and fall, we are invited to learn from those mistakes and avoid such trouble in the future. Of course, that means we have to really learn the lessons, doesn’t it? I guess that’s why this Wisdom literature the Church has us reading at this time of year is so very important. In fact, if you take the time to observe, the Church has really done a magnificent job in setting us up for success if only we’d apply this wisdom to our everyday lives.
Look at our lesson today in Proverbs 14:15-26:
The simple believes everything, but the prudent looks where he is going. A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool throws off restraint and is careless. A man of quick temper acts foolishly, but a man of discretion is patient. The simple acquire folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge. The evil bow down before the good, the wicked at the gates of the righteous. The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends. He who despises his neighbor is a sinner, but happy is he who is kind to the poor. Do they not err that devise evil? Those who devise good meet loyalty and faithfulness. In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to want. The crown of the wise is their wisdom, but folly is the garland of fools. A truthful witness saves lives, but one who utters lies is a betrayer. In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.
Solomon gives us 4 Opposites that, in their comparison, reveal wisdom to us.
First, The Simple and the Prudent. Isn’t that an interesting pairing? You’d think he’d compare the Simple to the Complex, but no, it’s to the Prudent. I love the definition of Prudence – acting with or showing care and thought for the future. The Simple man isn’t observant or careful. He is quick to act and slow to think. His mind is always stuck in the immediate gratification of what he wants right now. But the Prudent man is willing to hear wisdom from those who have come before him. The Prudent man trusts the words of the Faith that tell him a prepared and well lived life pays in eternity!
Next, the Wise and the Fool. That’s an easy one. And, again, it has everything to do with being attentive. What a wonderful Orthodox faith that enshrines this central spiritual discipline even in our Sunday liturgy as the priest often says “Let us give our attention.” The plain truth is an attentive life is a wise life, and an inattentive life leads to foolishness!
Next, The Evil and the Good. What I find fascinating about this comparison is that Solomon makes the convincing case in these short lines that the Evil may look like their are getting off scot free but, in reality, they usually end up bowing before the righteous and the good.
Finally, The Rich and the Poor. Solomon insists that we make a distinction here between poverty and being poor. And that’s because when the well off treat the poor well, they really are rich. But when the wealthy mistreat the poor, their wealth is a sham. They are the actual poor ones because their lives have such misery and fear!
Oh wait, I missed one. The Liar and the Truthful. How powerful! All lies are actually betrayals, and ultimately it is a betrayal of our truest selves. But a willingness to embrace Truth, no matter how difficult, puts us and our children in a strong foundation for a secure and happy life! That’s exactly what I’m looking for!
Today, while it may appear to be easier if I ignore all this hard work of faithfulness, it’s only an illusion. What looks easy is really a much more difficult way of life than if I would just humble myself and start every day being Orthodox on Purpose.