Wisdom, and being late to the airport check-in gate
May the words of my mouth, and the thoughts of all our hearts be guided by you, Almighty God and Father.
Seek wisdom while she may be found
Jesus tells a parable of the Kingdom of Heaven; using wisdom and foolishness as characters to make the point clear: There is a huge party planned and a group of people are waiting for a special person to go with. A person who is their friend, and who loves them very much. Within this group of people, there are some wise ones who have spent time getting ready to meet this special person and there are some foolish ones who haven’t given it much thought. Both the wise and foolish are excited to see the person who loves them, its just that some have spent time getting ready and some have not.
Unexpectedly, there is a delay. Jesus doesn’t say why. The pause button is hit. It is night, the excitement wears off and everyone falls asleep. When they wake up there is a panic, the wise ones are ready, the foolish ones are not and the party starts without them.
The closest modern analogy I can think of is this: taking an aeroplane to go on holiday. Getting ready means packing bags, making sure that pre-booked tickets are printed out and that passports are up to date and easily to hand. The night before, it is ‘early to bed’ and then the alarm clock wakes you up almost immediately. Allowing a couple of hours to check in, everyone arrives at the airport in plenty of time. However, after the bustle of check-in and security screening, once you arrive in the departure lounge it all gets a bit boring.
The flight isn’t ready to leave yet. Some people go to the departure gate and wait, others wander around the duty-free shops. When the flight is called, it seems there are always a few who get caught out and their names are being called repeatedly on the airport speakers. Those who arrive after the gate is closed find their luggage being off loaded and the flight leaves without them. The wise were at the gate in time, the foolish were not.
What is Jesus trying to tell you about the Kingdom of Heaven?
He has made it clear that everyone is invited to the party. Everyone. The only question is will you be awake and alert when the party starts? Staying awake is not easy. I sometimes feel drowsy: it is hard to stay alert and on edge constantly.
Jesus knows this too. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” But then even his closest friends fall asleep. Despite the fear and tension, they can’t keep watch constantly. So if Jesus says “stay awake” but we know it is likely we’re going to fall asleep anyway, even though Jesus said “stay awake”… what else can we learn from the parable?
Well, it’s clear that both the foolish and the wise are invited to the party, that both fall asleep, but that the wise ones, when they suddenly wake up, are better prepared. Again, if the Kingdom of Heaven is like taking a flight on a wonderful holiday, being wise and patient at the gate is the best way to be there when boarding is called. Wandering around the shops foolishly looking at overpriced things can result in missing the flight altogether.
So if we are all likely to fall asleep, then the best way to ensure we get to the party, or board the flight, is to seek wisdom.
Wisdom is not the same as clever. Wisdom is knowing what to do at the right time. The Book of Wisdom that has King Solomon’s name across the top is possibly the collected wisdom of the people of Israel, a collection of sayings from the home and the field: earthy wisdom that is grounded in the experiences of life. Who has wisdom? Absolutely everyone who seeks it, as the psalmist writes:
Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,
for she will be found sitting at the gate.
To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,
and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care,
because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,
and she graciously appears to them in their paths,
and meets them in every thought.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like this:
- There is an amazing party.
- Good news! You are invited. Everyone is.
- Waiting is boring: chances are you are going to get distracted, after all, you’re only human.
- While you are thinking about it now, why not get prepared?
- Do you know how to get prepared?
- It would be wise to find out, don’t you think?
(The sermon ended here, but in hindsight, I’d like to recommend that prayer and reading the Bible are the way to go forward. Have you considered reading the whole of a Gospel in one go? Try the Gospel of Mark, it is truly revealing to read it all in one sitting!)