Have you ever been called a “wise guy”? In common parlance the phrase usually refers to a person who has “street smarts,” that is, one who is aware of human behavior that is not part of acceptable social protocol.
But this is not the usual way of being called “wise” when the virtue of wisdom is bandied about in discussion. “Wisdom,” in the biblical sense, is much more than having street smarts. It is about having the ability to make the correct choices when dealing with other people, for example, justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.
In the first reading for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Proverbs 9:1-6], we come across the concept of “wisdom,” but in a rather unusual way. The values become people. In the field of literature this is called “personification.” Human values become anthropomorphic. Note, for example, the blindfolded lady holding a balancing scale in her hand. This symbolizes the virtue of “justice” which does not render judgement (the blindfold) until both sides are heard (the balancing scale).
The reading speaks of Lady Wisdom who invites people to a banquet. Many times in the Bible a meal was often presented as an image of togetherness much as we celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The family gathers around the table in ordet to celebrate oneness and hope.
Further on down the chapter [Prov. 9:13-18], we see the contrast to Lady Wisdom who is Lady Folly, also inviting others to a meal. This is obviously a choice that one who has been invited to such a meal must make. To choose between the good [Lady Wisdom] or the bad [Lady Folly].
Lady Wisdom offers good food and wine because, as she points out,” Come and eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” (NRSV) [Prov. 9:5-6] Lady Wisdom’s banquet symbolizes the invitation to behave justly and fairly. The concepts “live” and the “way of insight” were biblical terms indicating proper behavior toward others.
Lady Folly’s invitation has the opposite effect. The author calls her “foolish” and “ignorant” as she cries out, “You who are simple, turn in here…Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” [Prov. 9: 16-17] Most likely, the food that Lay Folly is offering is stolen. Also, the invitation would often include other pleasures. In effect, Lady Wisdom’s banquet offers a good life, while Lady Folly’s food lead’s to trouble.
What does this mean for us? As in the case above so is the case with us. A choice must be made. Will we choose the path of righteousness or the path of destruction? According to the above imagery, our choice is based on how we deal with temptation, which is the very basis for the choice.
Seeking Wisdom, according to the biblical model, would mean treating others with justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. This should be the basis of our choice. The big question, however, will be “How do I do it?” As I constantly search for the answer, I can actually be called a “wise guy,” most assuredly in the scriptural meaning.