9 September 2018

Learning from the Proverbs

[RCL]: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-10 (11-13), 14-17; Mark 7:24-37

Proverbs 22:1-2 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.

Proverbs 22:8-9 Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken. The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

Proverbs 22:22-23 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.

“A penny saved is a penny earned.” Is this in the Bible?

I hope everyone is thinking—no! It’s a proverb, of course, but one of Benjamin Franklin’s, not from the Old or New Testament. However, it could have been one as the book of Proverbs is full of earthly and spiritual wisdom.

We may think of proverbs as clever sayings thought up by people like Ben Franklin, who was a master at crafting these sayings. Parents have a million of these sayings at their disposal. It must come with becoming a parent. Sayings such as, “Don’t make that face, it will stick that way.” “Don’t go out with a wet head, you’ll catch cold.” “Little jugs have big ears.” I’m sure you could add many, many more, and aren’t they fun!

One thing I quite like about the book of Proverbs is that it has 31 chapters, so there is a chapter for every day of the month. If you looked up chapter 6 on the 6th of the month and read a few verses, you will gain some wisdom. Keep it up, and all of a sudden you wonder how you managed without your daily shot of clever sayings — words that are not just clever clichés, but those that make us think seriously about how we live in our world and interrelate with each other.

When we think about “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity…”, we should be reminded that if we sow injustice then eventually we will reap the punishment of calamity upon themselves, but even more importantly, and sadly, we will also reap calamity immediately upon those they persecute.

Today, in a very concise and clear set of verses, we consider justice and poverty, which is very topical considering what’s happening in the world around us. As with most proverbs, these get quickly to the point, which makes them very memorable.

“Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity…” or “Those who are generous are blessed …”

I think it is quite human to think about or hope for the justice that will be dealt upon those who do wrong when we read scripture verses like these — but is it not also true that we often wonder sometimes why punishment doesn’t come quickly enough (according to us at any rate) to those who deliberately do evil to others.

It doesn’t seem fair that often the unjust seem to get away with their crime against God’s people.

For example, we might say: “Why did God allow those young girls in Nigeria get kidnapped and tortured by the Boko Haram?” Or we might say something like, well how come God did not deal with this person or that person, who seems to have got away scot-free, when we know they should have been brought to account. We sometimes ask why God’s justice is not immediate and complete?

Why, indeed, but we must remember one of the great gifts God gave to us as human beings is free will. If God had a finger in everything we do, if God pushed and manipulated us as a puppet maker can manipulate the strings of a wooden puppet, then perhaps the world would be full of nice people going about their business like – well, like puppets. We wouldn’t have to think. God would never cause us to do evil if God was the puppet maker.

So we have to remember that we live in a very natural world, a world that is full of human beings made in God’s image and likeness, but all with the free will to behave as they choose.

Too many people today forget the most wonderful section of Genesis where God says, “Let us make humankind in our image and likeness.” Part of that is remembering that within God we have ultimate and perfect freedom and so we have the freedom to choose to do good or do evil. We get to do this every day of our lives.

Justice will come, but we may not know how those who do evil will be judged or what the outcome will be.

It must be enough that we trust God and know that God loves all of us, good, bad, or indifferent.

God also hopes that we who try to do good will pray for those who do evil.
We will work however we can to show the world that love can overcome hate, generosity can overcome greed, the mystery of prayer can overcome evil.
But, it’s not all grim. We aren’t always faced with evil that we must suffer under or overcome. There is a very positive side to the proverbs. Parents also have those positive proverbs like, “You will always be my baby” or “You’ll understand when you’re older.”

In our reading today, we find the proverb that says, “Those who are generous are blessed…”

Yes, the generous themselves are blessed by grace, but also those who are the recipients of our generosity are blessed. The two sides of the same coin — a beautiful interaction of blessedness between the giver and the receiver. It is a wonderful thing to be either.

I read about how a woman had written of a day she was standing in a longish queue at the supermarket, and whilst standing there, she made eye contact with another lady in the line at the adjacent checkout. She said that they didn’t know each other, but they both smiled and, in that moment, she said “I felt such love for her as a fellow human being. There was something beautiful in our acknowledgement of each other.”

We must know many people who have touched our own lives with love and blessing. Dozens and dozens of people, maybe hundreds or even thousands, have, are or will touch our lives with their kindness, with the little things that we come home and say “well that made my day”.

Teachers often are the ones who help us change our lives. Many fall in love with people who have kindled a spark of something special within us. There is actually a great deal of good in the world if we can turn away from the relentless news cycles and look into the eyes of our fellow humans.
Jewish people use the word mitzvah, which is often translated as ‘good deed done out of a sense of religious duty’. We find this word used more than 300 times in the first five books of the Bible alone.

In common usage, a mitzvah often means “a good deed”—as in “Do a mitzvah and help old Mrs Jones trim her hedge.” This usage is quite old and the Talmud commonly refers to any charitable act as “the mitzvah.” (The Talmud is the source, both oral history and a record of rabbinical teachings, from which the Jewish laws were derived).

The really interesting idea is that ‘mitzvah’ is closely related to the Aramaic word tzavta, which means to attach or join. Tzavta can mean companionship or personal attachment. In this sense, a mitzvah bundles up the person who is commanded and the Commander, creating a relationship and essential bond.

The three meanings can themselves be bundled together. “Good” is defined as that which the Creator of the Universe wants to be done with His universe, and by doing that which the Creator wants to be done, we are bound up with Him in body, mind and soul.

‘Connection’ is a lovely translation.

Whenever we share with the poor, speak out against injustice (especially when the injustice is right in front of our eyes), or respond with love to another, we are establishing a connection.

That connection is not only between us and another person but also between ourselves and God.

“The Lord is the maker of us all…”

We dare not forget this, but isn’t it a much better mitzvah for us all to look on each other with the same love with which God looks on each one of us!