Scripture: Proverbs 17:1-20
Key verse: (1) “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house of feasting with strife.”
Reflection: What are some of your favorite proverbs? “A stitch in time saves nine.” “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” These are some I remember; none of them are from the Bible. In twenty-one years of ministry, I’ve preached two sermons from the book of Proverbs. Put another way, out of the roughly 962 sermons preached, 2 of them have been on Proverbs. That’s .2%! Those two were both on Proverbs 1 and 8, out of the narrative sections that describe “Lady Wisdom” and “Lady Folly.” (Wisdom in Hebrew is a feminine word, so wisdom personified is a woman.)
Why have I avoided Proverbs? In the first place, there is little narrative logic to Proverbs, which makes it difficult to preach. As with today’s reading, there are collections of sayings that are not necessarily related to each other. Take verses 6 and 7 of chapter 17: “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their parents. Fine speech is not becoming to a fool; still less is false speech to a ruler.” What do those two sentences have to do with each other? There is no real theme there, just unrelated sentences. In the second place, a good proverb says it all. It summarizes an aspect of wisdom in one well-crafted sentence. It’s hard for a sermon to add much to a good proverb.
The entire book of Proverbs does offer themes. Dr. Alyce McKenzie, who teaches preaching at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology suggests that Proverbs poses a very practical question of its reader, “How will you spend today?” There are two options offered in Proverbs, as a fool or as a person of wisdom. She goes on to suggest that fools are described with six overarching Hebrew words in Proverbs:
1. Peti—naïve, untutored
4. Ba ar—crude
Some of these six words are included in today’s readings. “Those who mock the poor insult their Maker,” “The crooked of mind do not prosper, and the perverse of tongue fall into calamity.” Proverbs warns against such behavior, promoting the opposite—learning, intelligence, flexibility, reverence, kindness, and humility. My favorite from today’s reading: “A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.”
How will we spend today? Proverbs offers us guidance in this regard. Let us pursue the path of Wisdom today, and shun the way of fools.
Prayer: Guide me through this day, O God. Close my ears to fools. Open my heart to hear the call of wisdom in my life, and follow wherever she leads. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].