Proper 15B’21
15 August 2021
I Kgs 2.10-12; 3.3-14
Eph. 5.15-20; Jn.6.51-58
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone +

 “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.”

  • James 1.5 NRSV

A kid finds a magical lamp. He rubs the lamp, and a genie appears and says: “Greetings! Because you have freed me from the lamp, I will grant you three wishes! What is your first wish?”The kid says to the genie: “I wish I were rich!”

The genie replies: “It is done! What is your second wish, Rich?”

A husband and wife in their sixties were coming up on their 40th wedding anniversary. Knowing his wife loved antiques, he bought a beautiful old brass oil lamp for her. When she unwrapped it, a genie appeared, he thanked them and gave each of them one wish. The wife wished for an all-expenses paid, first class, around the world cruise with her husband. Shazam! Instantly she was presented with tickets for the entire journey, plus expensive side trips, dinners, and shopping. The husband, however, wished he had a female companion who was 30 years younger. Shazam! Instantly he turned 93 years old.

It was from the collection of middle eastern folktales known as “One Thousand and One Arabian Nights” that we first heard stories of “Ali Baba” and “Aladdin and His Magic Lamp.” Modern media moguls, Disney in particular, seized upon the story and has made a fortune through the modern Hollywood animated feature. This old story has also trickled down to us in the form of “Genie jokes” where the lamp or bottle comes into someone’s possession, they rub it and out pops a genie who offers them three wishes. The effect of the story and jokes are to show us the need we all have for wisdom. As the tradition reflects, if one doesn’t correctly discern and carefully choose the right words in making their wish, the genie ends up giving them something totally unexpected and – unwanted.

Within our faith, there is a rich tradition to be found in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament books like the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, in the apocryphal books of Ecclesiasticus, and the Wisdom of Solomon, as well as in the Gospels of the New Testament.

In the ancient story of Solomon’s accession to the throne of Israel we find a story about Wisdom itself. But before we get to that story it might be helpful to give some definitions of what wisdom is not. The Oxford Learners Dictionary defines knowledge as:

“The information, understanding, and skills that you gain through education or experience.”

Today we stand at the threshold of a new school year, tomorrow or later in the week, many students will rush off to school with great excitement in their quest for knowledge, where they will gain lots of ‘information, understanding, new skills, and new experiences.’ Important stuff for sure! We will be praying for them and blessing their backpacks a bit later in the service.

But now, back to Solomon and wisdom. What is wisdom? Again, from the Oxford Learners Dictionary:

“Wisdom is the ability to make sensible decisions and give good advice because of the experience and knowledge that you have.”

So, we see at face value there’s a difference between knowledge and wisdom. One is more about acquiring data, while the other is about the special discernment and intuition required for putting all the data to proper use. Our faith takes wisdom a quantum leap farther – as ‘the Reality of God that’s behind, above, and beyond all human knowledge.’

One night, just after ascending the throne, Solomon has a dream. Most scholars believe that Solomon would have been approximately 20 years old. In the dream God said: “Ask what I should give you.” Talking about the Genie of all genies, and Solomon isn’t given three wishes/requests but only one. To this Solomon answered:

“Although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen…Give your servant therefore and understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

In this wisdom story, we find that God is well pleased with Solomon’s single request and responds with great favor:  

Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed, I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like shall arise after you. (It gets even better) I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life…”

So, Solomon asks for one thing – wisdom, and winds up with riches, honor, and a long life!

In today’s world we are drowning in a sea of information, and we’re being bombarded with knowledge from various points of view on the spectrum, all claiming to be “the truth” – how desperately we need to ask for, and receive the wisdom that comes only from God. Knowledge is acquired but wisdom is a gift from God.

In the gospel reading today, we are shown some religious scholars who were devoid of wisdom and were listening to Jesus only with the ears of knowledge. Jesus makes a bold claim when he tells them:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Those with only the knowledge they had acquired asked among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Although these scholars were intellectually brilliant, they lacked the wisdom that comes from God, and unlike Solomon, they failed to ask God for it. The result, they were clueless, deaf, and blind, to the truth that was staring them right in the face – Christ the very Wisdom of God was standing right in front of them. Ironically it’s a Jewish proverb that revealed their error: “A wise man hears one word and understands two.”

Today as students, parents, and teachers prepare to launch a new school year to add to their knowledge, let us all not forget to ask God to add to our wisdom. May we be able to listen deeply, to hear not just the word being spoken, but for the ‘words under the word,’ and to be able to put our knowledge to use in a way that serves God, others, and ourselves.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.”

  • James 1.5 NRSV