Wisdom in the ancient world was a woman crying out for people to seek after knowledge to not be foolishbut to be wise.
Seeking wisdom was akin to seeking after God and those who are in awe of God, who understand God’s sovereignty as the creator, will seek after knowledge.
In this passage to do otherwise is considered the province of the simple and of the foolish and the consequence of failing to seek wisdom is suffering.
These are certainly challenging words and as a person who is interested in understanding life and the world and God I was drawn to these words like a bee to a pollen laden flower.
I went to school that had the motto “In fide scientiam” to faith add knowledge and for me this has very much shaped my spiritual journey as an adult. Even now I am enrolled in formal studies to grow in my understanding and am committed to the teaching of others about the depths of the mystery of God’s love.
Yet I have been challenged over the years by people in congregations who have had said to me that they have a ‘simple’ faith.
The proverbs passage speaks of the simply loving to be simple and this can be a problem.
This week I was sharing with some friends who are not regular church attendees that I was going to speak about the notion of a having a wise simple faith in my sermon – their automatic response was that people who have a simple faith have a blind faith.
The reality is that sometimes people who claim to have a simple faith are using this as a protective barrier for their faith because some concepts and problems are just too difficult for them. Sometimes people who claim to have a simple faith use this as an excuse not to engage seriously in connecting their relationship with God and their life: at home, at work, within the community, or at church.
I have heard it said by many people that they do not understand why people switch their brains off when they go through the church door and there is a level of frustration that often people who have been in the church for many years seem to have not explored Christian teaching any more deeply than when they attended Sunday School.
Despite all of these problems with the claim to have a simple faith I do believe that you can have a simple faith that has a depth to it – a wisdom behind it. In fact for most us it is the simple statement of faith that keep us going.
The encounter that we heard about today between Jesus and Peter is in my mind an example of this growth in wisdom through a simple statement of faith made by Peter.
As I discussed during the call to worship Jesus asked the disciples “Who do people say that I am?” He then asked them more directly, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter’s answer is in some ways a simple answer arising from a conviction of faith. “You are the Messiah.” I have often said of this passage it is the hinge on which the whole of Mark’s gospel swings. Peter hits the nail on head – he gets it dead right. “You are the Messiah.”
It is not a complex statement but it is a loaded statement. The idea of the Messiah and the prophecies around the Messiah are all tied up with God choosing and anointing a leader for Israel, a leader that was expected to somehow restore Israel.
It is likely that when Peter made this statement, filled with hope as he was, that Jesus, as the Messiah, would lead the Israelites to overthrow the Romans, or would in some other way restore the glory of the Holy City Jerusalem, and the prestige of God’s people.
Of course what we heard in what for many of us is a familiar story is that Jesus intention as the Messiah is perplexing for Peter:
“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
This is not what Peter was expecting, his simple faith as correct as it was, was shattered. Jesus can’t suffer. It simply did not make sense.
The simple statement needed more depth behind it, greater wisdom. Not the wisdom of the world though. Some of you may remember that in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians Pauls explains the paradox of Jesus suffering saying the cross appears as foolishness and “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”
Each statement we make about our faith is a loaded statement. Peter had loaded his simple faith claim with meanings that had domesticated Jesus and God’s work to his understandings. This had to be reversed and challenged by Jesus.
And though we know the whole story, we hear about the incarnation, the suffering, the death and the resurrection of Jesus we should be aware that our simply faith statements are just as loaded.
It is not wrong to make these simple statements of faith because often they are what keep us going but at the same time a wise faith is one that understands as Paul understood we only every see through a dark glass – we do not get the full picture. Regardless of how much we know we cannot contain God in the box of what we know nor domesticate the mystery of grace for our own purposes.
Our faith can be simple, it can be summarised by single sentences that keep us going, but these sentences and the concepts they contain should not be straight-jackets we place on God ourselves or others. They should be points of departure for us to listen to the teaching of Jesus and of each other as witnesses to the story of God’s love.
A couple of months ago I went to a workshop where we were asked to summarise our faith into a sentence. It was like imaging being asked by someone: ‘Why do you continue to follow Jesus?’ or ‘Why are you a Christian?’
In my response I simply said “God is for us; God is not against us”. It is a statement that on the surface is simple but has great depth to it. It is a statement that pushes me to seek knowledge of God and listen to God. It is a statement that I try not to make a barrier to others but an invitation to learning and encounter for me and for others.
Wisdom cries out in the street. Peter states his simple faith. Jesus invites Peter to follow him to the depths of the foolishness of God’s love. God shares our life in Jesus and impossible God shares our death and remakes it in Jesus.
Who is Jesus? He is the Messiah?