thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
A young man was invited to a party one day. The host filled his pool with sharks. In the middle of the party, the host called his guests to the pool and announced, “If any young man will jump into this pool and swim to the other side, he can have one of three things: my ranch, a million dollars, or my daughter in marriage.” At the other end of the pool, there was a commotion; a young man was in the pool. He frantically swam to the other side while fighting off the sharks. When he got out on the other side the rich host asked him which of the three offers he wanted. The young man replied, “I don’t want any of your offers.” “All right,” the host said. “You name it and you can have it.” The young man demanded, “All I want is to know who the guy was who shoved me into the pool!”
If you were given only one request of God, you probably would not want to answer on the basis of an immediate or impulsive need or desire. To answer wisely, you would want to think about it and ask for something that would be a permanent blessing.
In our text from the Hebrew Scriptures this morning, Solomon is put in this predicament by God. “Ask what I shall give you.” God says. Solomon might have asked for wealth, or for a long life, or to be free from opposition. But because he asked for wisdom God was pleased and granted his request.
If you were given only one request by God, would you ask for wisdom? Be honest! Money maybe, or health, maybe, or success, maybe, or maybe even love. But wisdom? Is wisdom really our heart’s desire?
What is your heart’s desire? The scriptures tell us that our heart’s desire should be based on our greatest need rather than on our most intense longing, because what we long for is not necessarily what we need. I may long for a new Tesla Model S, but what I need is my Honda Pilot to provide transportation so I can visit homebound parishioners and transport supplies to and from the Art Festival over Labor Day Weekend.
So, if this is the case, then the logical question is, what is our deepest need? Do we agree with Solomon that wisdom is what we need most? Well, not everyone would agree.
Karl Marx believed that humanity’s deepest need is the possession of things—food, goods, and economic equality. This is true to some extent. We need shelter to protect us and bread to sustain us. But Jesus pointed out that there is a deeper need when he said “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” So Jesus says we need something more in our life than just that which will sustain the physical body.
Sigmund Freud claimed that our deepest need is pleasure. This too is true. We want and need pleasure to be happy, and to enjoy life. But pleasure without wisdom leads to a lifestyle that is harmful to us. Paul urges us to be wise in our love when he says “do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.” So pleasure is important to human life, but what kind of pleasure we seek and what brings fulfillment to our lives needs to be guided by wisdom.
Then there was Alfred Adler who claimed that humanity’s most basic need is power. Power is what motivates many people to seek positions in business and politics. Of course, taken to its extreme, power is a need for all of us. We need a sense of some power and control over our own lives. But more often than not, the power we seek is power over other people. And that kind of power, our faith tells us, is to be reserved for God alone.
Then there is Robert Schuller. Pastor Schuller wrote a book entitled Self Esteem, in which he claimed that our deepest need is pride. That far from a sin, we need self-esteem, self-worth, and self-appreciation. “Don’t worry about humility,” he says. It is pride that you need. Here again there is a certain amount of truth to what he says. We all need self-respect and a healthy self-love. We need to know in our heads and feel in our hearts that we are of value and are loved. But self-esteem without wisdom ends up as arrogance, narcissism, and egotism.
So perhaps Solomon really was wise when he asked God to give him wisdom. But just what was he asking for?
What is wisdom anyway? What do we mean or understand ourselves to be talking about when we refer to wisdom?
Well, I don’t know if I can tell you what wisdom IS, but I can tell you what wisdom is not. Wisdom is not synonymous with intelligence. Your IQ is a natural gift. Whatever degree of book smarts you have is what you have.
Many of you know my family of origin is Scandinavian. There’s an old story among Scandinavians about a Norwegian and a Swede from Minnesota. Ole the Norwegian, was coming from a lake with a fish pail and pole. Sven, the Swede, saw him and asked,
“Vere you bin, Ole?”
Ole replied, “Vot you tink? I bin Fishin’!”
“Tell you vot, Ole, Sven said, if I guess how many fish you got in dat pail, how bout givin’ me von o’ dem?”
Ole replied, “You guess how many fish in dat pail, and I give you both of dem.” . . . . . . .
Sven then thinks and guesses, “Five!”
Ole thinks and says, “Sorry, Sven. You missed it by two.”
Now that’s a funny story about the perceived intelligence of 2 Scandinavians. But I will also tell you that my Danish grandmother had wisdom that served her and her family well for many years.
So, if wisdom is not intelligence, what is it? Wisdom is the ability to make good judgments and right decisions. Some of us are reluctant to make decisions because we fear that the decision will not be the right one. Reinhold Niebuhr asked for wisdom in a prayer that has become a classic: “God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Shortly after Solomon’s request, the gift of wisdom was needed when he was asked to settle a dispute between two women claiming the same child. Solomon resolved the case by ordering the child be cut in two and a half given to each mother. The real mother, out of love, cried out, “Please don’t kill the child. Let the other woman have it.” Solomon then awarded the child to the woman who plead for the child’s life because he had the wisdom to know that she was the real mother.
Wisdom also means the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Solomon asked for understanding: “that I may discern between good and evil.” Why would he ask for that? He had the 10 commandments to guide him, right? Well, the problem with rules like the 10 commandments is that they don’t always apply equally well to different situations.
The second commandment states “You shall not make for yourself any idol.” Well, what about icons or religious statuary. Those images draw many people to a closer, deeper understanding of God. Or the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder.” Does this mean we cannot defend ourselves in war?
You see, wisdom is more than intelligence. Wisdom is understanding. Solomon asked of God only one thing which was most important to him – understanding.
Do we understand ourselves? Do we understand our need for God’s presence in our lives? Do we look at our relationship with Jesus as something that is nice to have? Or do we understand that our relationship with our Savior is foundational to who we are as children of God? Do we have that kind of wisdom? If not, it’s something we need to pray for and work for. Because ultimately, when we talk about what wisdom is, we need to say at some point that actually, wisdom is God. Just as God is love or God is truth. God also is wisdom. As the psalmist proclaims, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
We can get wisdom through our relationship with Christ. We can get wisdom through the work of the Holy Spirit. We can get wisdom through years of following our faith and deepening our understanding of what it teaches. But ultimately, wisdom is not something we can acquire by our own will. Because in the end, wisdom is a gift from God.
Every person’s problem is stated in the proverb, “Too soon old, too late smart.” Before you and I get one day older, we can get smart and wise, by asking God to meet our deepest need, the need for wisdom and understanding. Then we will truly be as wise as a Solomon!