For Sept. 16, 2012: Proper 19, Year B

The Reading                                             Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1

The book of the Wisdom of Solomon was not written by Solomon: it was written for Greek-speaking Jews between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. It is part of the Septuagint—the version of the Bible in use by Jews in Alexandria, Egypt—though we now take it as one of the apocryphal books. Today’s reading personifies wisdom as an agent of God, in terms that are echoed by the description of Christ in the letter to the Hebrews.

The Response                                             Psalm 19

The Epistle                                                  James 3:1-12

Psalm 19, carrying on the theme of wisdom, ends with a plea to God to keep us from presumptuous sins and to keep our words and thoughts acceptable to God. The extent to which it is imperative that we Christians watch our language—and to which we need God’s help to do so—is underlined, in this increasingly contentious election season, by the vivid metaphors in today’s reading from the letter of James.

The Gospel                                                  Mark 8:27-38

 

Further thoughts

A mantra of the tumultuous 1960s was “Tell it like it is.” The message was that someone under thirty had an obligation to convey the unvarnished truth to those who were too unhip, too co-opted by The Man, too bugged, too hung up, too not-with-it, or simply too over-thirty to be reckoned able to grasp it on their own—with or without the short squat four-letter words with which one might daringly unvarnish it.

Aside from the four-letter words, some of which still do retain power to shock, it all sounds a bit quaint now, and in the phrasing of Psalm 19 more than slightly presumptuous. That the end of Psalm 19 and the letter to James counsel us to watch our language is quite fitting. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer” is not so far from “O Lord, make my words tender and juicy today, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.”

Nevertheless, telling it like it is has much to recommend it. First, sometimes I don’t know what I know until I give it voice. Peter, being Peter, might not have fully have recognized Jesus as the Messiah until the words came out of his mouth. Second, I won’t find out what I don’t know until I get it out there for corroboration or correction. Peter needed to learn that he was right that Jesus is the Messiah but wrong about just what that means.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the “it” of “tell it like it is” properly embraces not just the bad news but the good news. Wisdom is the mirror of God and she does order all things well. The heavens do declare the glory of God, and it is marvelous. Jesus is the Messiah, sent because, in God’s terms, each of God’s children is so worth saving. The more we speak blessing to each other and the world, the more we speak God’s love into each other and the world—and the better we hear God’s love as well.

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