Lesson: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth–
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”
In Christian Bibles, the Book of Proverbs is included in the “Wisdom Literature,” but in the Jewish Bible (the “TaNaK”), it is part of the “Writings.” The other two parts of the Jewish Bible are The Torah and The Prophets. The name “TaNaK” is an acronym for the first letters of the Hebrew words for each of these sections: the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Ketubim.
Although Proverbs claimed to be written by Solomon (965-930 BCE) (1:1), most scholars agree that these sayings were compiled over a lengthy period and put in their final form around 450 BCE. In fact, two Chapters of Proverbs (22:17 to 24:34) were copied almost word-for-word from Egyptian wisdom literature dating to about 1100 BCE.
Most of the sayings in Proverbs were presented as teachings from the elders and were aimed at young men to enable them to cope with life. They generally advised that moral living (diligence, sobriety, self-restraint, selecting a good wife, and honesty) will lead to a good life. Unlike most guidance in the Hebrew Bible, Proverbs was aimed at individuals, rather than to the nation.
The authors of Proverbs seemed to be convinced that everyone who attended to the wisdom of the past and employed powers of reason could know what to do and what to avoid. Wisdom is the virtue that encompasses all other virtues. In that sense, there is a tension between the ”teaching” of Proverbs and the Torah – which emphasized the revealed law.
The usual translation of a recurring theme in Proverbs is that “fear” of YHWH (translated as LORD – all capital letters in the NRSV) is the beginning of wisdom. Many scholars suggest, however, that “awe of YHWH” or “reverence for YHWH” better captures the sense of the authors of the Proverbs.
Proverbs acknowledged the limitations of human wisdom but also offered a clear view of divine reward and punishment: Wisdom (equated with righteousness) would bring success, but folly (or wickedness) woud lead to destruction.
Today’s reading is about Wisdom as the feminine aspect of the Sacred (vv. 1-3) who speaks to all the people (v.4) and in particular (in an omitted verse) to the “simple ones” (v.5).
In the second part of today’s reading, Wisdom was described as being present at Creation and as the first of God’s creations (vv.22-31).
Epistle: Romans 5:1-5
1 Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was his longest, last, and most complex letter. It was written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE) to a Jesus Follower community that Paul did not establish. Among other messages in the letter, Paul sought to encourage respectful and supportive relationships between the Gentile Jesus Followers and the Jewish Jesus Followers in Rome.
Nero’s predecessor (Claudius) had expelled the Jews from Rome in 49 CE. During Nero’s reign (54-68 CE), he allowed Jews (including Jewish Jesus Followers) to return, and this created tensions within the Jesus Follower Community. (They were not called “Christians” until the 80’s.)
Paul died in 62 or 63 CE. Accordingly, the Temple in Jerusalem (which was destroyed in 70) was in full operation all during Paul’s life. As a Jew who was also a Jesus Follower, Paul continued to have expectations about the fullness of the Coming of the Messiah, one of the important themes in Romans.
Today’s reading speaks of being “justified by faith” (v.1). Understanding these terms in Paul’s context is often challenging for modern readers. For example, “justified” (v.1) is more properly understood as “being in right relationships with God, others, the world and oneself.” (A page of type in which the right and left margins are straight is described as “justified.”)
The word “faith” is a translation of the Greek word “pistis” – a word that conveys an active quality. The word is perhaps better understood as “faith-ing” or “active faithfulness.” For Paul, “faith” was not a matter of intellectually assenting to a series of doctrines (the way many Christians today think of “Faith”). Instead, “faith” is living a life of loving faithfulness in the same way that Jesus of Nazareth lived his life in faithfulness.
Gospel: John 16:12-15
12 Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“Cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who was described as “the Lamb of God” in the Fourth Gospel) died at the same time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder that was to be held the night he died.
Most scholars agree that the Gospel was written around 95 CE, at a time when the “parting of the ways” between the Jesus Follower Movement and Rabbinic Judaism was accelerating.
Today’s reading is part of the “Farewell Discourse and Prayer of Jesus” that begins at 13:31 and continues to 17:26. There are numerous themes in the Discourse, and a substantial amount of repetition. Scholars suggest that some of the themes in the Discourse reflect the situation when the Gospel itself was written in the late First Century.
Generally, the lengthy Discourse is divided into four units: (a) announcement of the hour and farewell; (b) exhortation to the disciples about the community in the face of external hostility; (c) consolation for the sorrowing disciples; and (d) Jesus’ prayer for the disciples.
Today’s reading repeated John 15:15-17 and again presented Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples as a “Spirit of truth” (v.13). This promise was fulfilled in the Fourth Gospel when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the locked room on the first day of the Resurrection. John 20:21-22 reads: “When he had said this [Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.], he breathed on them and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ” This imparting of the Holy Spirit is often called “Little Pentecost” as compared to the “Big Pentecost” described in Acts 2.
The statements in this reading about the “Spirit” and the “Father” became important in the eventual development of the doctrine of the Trinity.