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Fourth Sunday after Epiphany — January 29, 2023

Baron Mullis writes about overcoming the wisdom of the world.

Year A
Micah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12

Paul tells us that the reign of God is not defined by the wisdom of the world as we know it (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). Jesus appears to be even more explicit in the Sermon on the Mount, “This is what blessing looks like for God’s people” (Matthew 5:3-11).

And, in today’s passage, the prophet Micah lays out a path for faithful living under God’s reign that sounds remarkably generous and open-ended, even inviting, until you read the rest of the chapter (Micah 6:1-8).

If we want an easy path, these texts are not the places to look for it.

They seem to say that God’s way in the world counters much of what the world values. God’s reign counters a world in which we run roughshod over the poor because they are of little significance. God’s reign counters the world where we meet the unfair advantage with a wink and a nod. God’s reign counters a world controlled by and preserved by the strong for the strong. God’s reign counters a world where mercy is withheld, where purity of mind and heart are mocked by crass commercialism, where we act as though the humanity of the “other” doesn’t matter. God’s reign counters a world where war is the norm and peace is a pipe dream.

Then just when it seems that living God’s way is impossible, Jesus concludes the beatitudes by saying essentially this: God’s way runs so counter to much of what the world expects, that those who dare to engage the world on God’s terms by blessing the peacemakers, the pure, the merciful, and the righteous, can themselves expect to be persecuted (Matthew 5:11).

That is not exactly the most compelling sales pitch for the Christian faith, is it?

Perhaps that is why the wisdom of the world, the easier way, is so tempting in the face of dwindling church membership and deficit budgets, so attractive at the crossroads of our pre-pandemic past, to which we cannot return, and an unknown future wherein we can only trust God’s good purposes for us.

Faith in Christ invites us to embark on a path that realistically and logically ought to intimidate us, not because it is harmful or physically dangerous, but because it is so very, very counter to worldly success and the acceptable path.

We might even be tempted to reply, “Well Jesus, that’s great, but I have to live in the real world.”

There is just one problem with that response and it is this: The real world’s wisdom, if we want to call it that, locks us into a world that values success, youth, vitality, fiscal rewards, and physical prowess above all else.

The real world’s wisdom teaches us to rely on our brains or our muscles or our charm and wit, to take comfort in our portfolio or our family relationships and to believe we are blessed by these things.

While this “wisdom” may appear to be benign, pursuing these values and lauding these attributes tempt us away from the hidden blessings of God’s counter way. They keep us from being the human beings God created us to be and from living the lives given us by God to live together.

We who pray, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” every week do not set out to live as the villains in our own story. We want to be delivered from the shallowness of the world’s wisdom, but how?

I am reminded of Patrick Stewart’s character Sterling in the 1995 film “Jeffrey” who says, “Evil bores me. It’s just one note. It doesn’t sing.”

The wisdom of the world tries to keep playing that one note: The primacy of the self and the elevation of the individual at all costs, even if the cost is the destruction of community. It may not feel like evil, but it certainly isn’t good.

You cannot make a melody with just one note. The life God wants us to have is a life that invites us, as Howard Thurman writes in “The Work of Christmas,” “to make music in the heart.”

If Micah’s prophecy and Jesus’ Beatitudes are any clues, God has been trying to deliver us from evil, from the boredom of the world’s wisdom, from a life without music in the heart, for a long, long time.

God’s melody begins with these notes: peace, justice, mercy, and righteousness — the notes that, when sung together, bless the whole world.

Questions for reflection:

  1. What are some examples of “the wisdom of the world” that seem unwise when examined more closely?
  2. Who are some people who embody what it is to be blessed, according to the beatitudes?
  3. What are the ways that living as God’s blessing can make the heart sing?

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