St. John’s Episcopal Church
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  • The Wisdom of Christ – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    July 09, 2023

    As you most of you know by now, we’ve started Bible Study up again at St. John’s. And we kicked it off with the Gospel of Matthew. One of the things that we have been discussing is Matthew’s deep knowledge and frequent use of the Hebrew Scriptures in his writing. Matthew is always quoting prophets and linking the life of Jesus to the sacred scripture of the Jewish people.

    We can extrapolate reasons for this. First, Matthew was most likely trained in the ritual practices of Judaism because it’s clear from his writing that he is incredibly knowledgeable about the details of religious life. So, he knows the scripture very well. Also, the context in which Matthew’s Jewish community finds itself is very noteworthy – the Greek-speaking urban setting of Antioch, Syria, a place where people from all walks of life live and find work. And a place where the Matthean community is no longer welcome by the Jewish leadership in the synagogues because this community has come to believe in Jesus as the messiah. So, Matthew, in response, pointedly makes the case in his writing that Jesus is the one that all the prophets were talking about.

    Regardless of his reasons, however, Matthew’s Gospel is one that helps us as Christians to find threads of meaning throughout scripture. And this is one of those times.

    The word Wisdom or hokhmah (Hebrew) is used throughout Hebrew Scriptures as a name for God, or at least an aspect of God, that depicts how God infuses us with the knowledge or understanding to do what God would have us do. More often than not, Wisdom is depicted as feminine in Scripture. Indeed, Biblical scholar Amy Levine describes hokhmah as the feminine manifestation of the Divine. Hokhmah is used most notably in the books of Proverbs, Job, Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon. And these passages, in particular, are the source of today’s Gospel reading.

    By referencing these passages about Wisdom, Matthew teaches that Jesus is not only connected to this Wisdom tradition, but that Jesus is Wisdom incarnate or sophia in the Greek. We learn that it is Sophia, this particular aspect of God, which Jesus embodies, that makes him the anointed one. It is Sophia that crowns him the holy child of God.

    Today’s passage begins with Jesus on a bit of a rant, really. Going on about how people refuse to hear his teaching, the teaching of Wisdom. He has already given the Sermon on the Mount. He has been on a journey through the countryside casting out demons, cleansing lepers, and healing people from all walks of life, most notably the son of a Roman Centurion and the daughter of a synagogue leader, and he has given the power to heal to his disciples.

    All this leading up to two weeks ago in our gospel, where Jesus talked about bringing a sword that would create division instead of peace. And last week he said that whoever welcomes him welcomes the one who sent him, which means God. Today, Jesus continues his challenge.

    “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

    Jesus is highlighting here the lengths to which we will go as comfort-seeking humans to deny God, when God is inconvenient for us. They refuse to witness God incarnate. They refuse to acknowledge Christ, instead favoring the ways of the world. They refuse Wisdom itself.

    “Yet wisdom, Jesus says, is vindicated by her deeds.”
    Jesus is saying, “I am Sophia, vindicated by my deeds.”

    It’s important to note exactly to whom Jesus is talking here. These are not people who have never heard about him. Nor is he talking to people who are non-believers. He is talking to a crowd of people who went out into the desert to be baptized by John, a crowd of people who have witnessed his deeds of healing. These are people who have been following his ministry in some way, paying attention to what Jesus is doing.

    And Jesus is telling them that they are petulant, immature people who will look for any reason to resist the teaching. A crowd of hangers-on who aren’t really committing themselves to anything except to stand just far enough away so they can cast their own discontent and cynicism at the movement Jesus has created. Too cautious or too cowardly to give up their privilege and commit to believe in the truth of Jesus’ teachings.

    By the way, this isn’t a unique situation. To varying degrees, the church has always had people who hang out at church. Some who profess to be believing Christians but who, quite honestly, forgot to listen to the actual meaning of the Gospel. Or refuse to.

    What is it, then, that prevents us from being true disciples? What is it that has such a hold on us that we cannot follow Jesus?

    Jesus says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

    The Scream 1893 by Edvard Munch

    It is not through worldly means that we can know God because the worldly yoke does not offer us redemption. We are so bound to the world and its ways that Jesus, that Wisdom or God’s Holy Spirit… becomes inconvenient for us.

    This worldly yoke that we take on merely by being alive in a society: the economic system – banking, mortgage and real estate, debts, the stock market, big business buyouts and government subsidies; the medical system – insurance and pharmaceutical industry; the educational system and the criminal justice system. Not to mention the yokes of our occupational life, our political parties, our friends, and even our families.

    And, in order to navigate through these systems successfully, we have to admit that Jesus is inconvenient. That this Wisdom he embodies and teaches is wholly inconsistent with how most systems function. So that being a true disciple of Jesus can be next to impossible. Jesus talks about overturning worldly systems of privilege and power – it’s the focus of the Sermon on the Mount. Yet we are bound to these systems. How could we possibly navigate these systems successfully so that we can gain privilege in the systems and work to overturn them at the same time? Can it be done at all?

    When Jesus talked about bringing a sword rather than peace a few weeks ago, it was not a threat. It was a promise. Because the wisdom of the world will not save us. The systems of the world are not sacred. We only hold them as such because if they fall apart so does the privilege we have worked so hard to gain. These systems come and go over time just as nations come and go over time. The more we invest in them, the more indebted and yoked to them we become.

    But the big question in all of this is, how do we know what to do? Especially given that in any society, there are systems to navigate.

    If we are to be true disciples of Christ…
    If we are to be the church that Jesus calls us out to be…
    If we are to believe in a Gospel that professes a life-giving, loving, liberating God and if we are to live that out…
    then what does that look like given that we cannot exactly ignore the systems of the world?

    I have to say, I don’t exactly know. I still drink lattes at Starbucks and pray for good news from our investment manager at Merril Lynch. It’s not easy because it likely means we have to give up something we’re fond of. Putting our values above our wants. Inconveniencing ourselves in a world that is already difficult to navigate most of the time.

    But I think the answer is in here. In the good news that Jesus gives us today. He tells us that when we make this choice to move deeply into our discipleship, and listen to Sophia, to Holy Wisdom, and do the things that God would have us do, Jesus makes us a promise.

    “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

    You will find rest for your souls, Jesus says. You will find rest for your souls.

    The good news about being the church is that it is supremely restful because, although it is work, it is work that aligns with our soul. And I don’t just mean the work that we do as the community of St. John’s because we can and should take this outside the walls of the church into the lives we lead, into the systems we inhabit.

    When we are restful in our souls, we no longer have to disengage from the part of ourselves that yearns for goodness and compassion and love. Instead, we can live fully into our commitments with a sense of purpose, simplicity, and even pleasure. This work calls us to become exactly who God created us to be. To leave behind our loyalty to systems that do not function for the common good and commit ourselves to a Gospel that arises from our very souls to seek to change the systems or support systems that do align with our values. It is work that demands we listen to Wisdom, bring all of our gifts, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices for the love of God through loving others.

    This is when work becomes ministry. When our life becomes ministry.

    The world cannot bring us peace. But the good news is that we are called to be the church – now.
    To be clear in our Love for all of creation. To offer an understanding of the Gospel that opens people up to the Love of God. And to be bold in our celebration of God’s Holy and Beloved Creation.

    In the face of the world, this is what the church is called to be. Because this is what it means to be yoked to Christ.