Proverbial Wisdom

Friday, June 1, 2012 — Week of Proper 3, Year Two

Justin, Martyr at Rome, c. 167

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 969)

Psalms 31 (morning) // 35 (evening)

Proverbs 23:19-21, 29 – 24:2

1 Timothy 4:1-16

Matthew 13:24-30

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Proverbs: Do not be among winebibbers, or among gluttonous eaters of meat… Who has woe? Who has sorrow? …Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger late over wine….

1 Timothy: No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.

The wisdom and practical advice of Proverbs urges a young noble to live a disciplined life of moderation. Gluttony in all of its forms has its own consequences.

In many ways, portions of 1 Timothy pick up the same tradition as Proverbs, intending to offer sage advice and wisdom to a still young, but maturing church. The elders who lead well are to be paid and respected. There is a provision for dealing with disciplinary issues. Both writings presume that justice and virtue will prevail over time.

Picking up the mantle of wisdom, Jesus too teaches in proverbs. Like a master teacher he adds drama and illustration to his instruction, offering his insights through parables. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…, like yeast, …a pearl of great value. In the tradition of the proverbial wisdom, Jesus points toward the small things that yield big consequences. Virtues practiced for their own sake do indeed have their rewards.

Virtue, discipline and moderation. These are subjects that sometimes do not have a lot of sex appeal or entertainment value. Reading Proverbs and 1 Timothy can feel a bit tedious, especially compared with the drama of the passion of the Psalms or the narratives of the Gospels. But there is great value in the traditions of pithy wisdom.

Maybe it is no coincidence that some of the greatest proverbial wisdom of the twentieth century comes from the spirituality of the twelve-step recovery traditions. We see Proverbs and 1 Timothy address the powerful destructive tendencies of gluttony and addiction. In our age, recovery disciplines have offered some of our wisest collections of proverbs for living with virtue, discipline and moderation:

Let go and let God. One day at a time. First things first. Live and let live. Time takes time. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. Live life on life’s terms. You can’t think your way into a new way of living… you have to live your way into a new way of thinking. Your worth should never depend on another person’s opinion. Learn to listen and listen to learn. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Feelings are not facts. Progress, not perfection. Keep it simple. This too shall pass. Easy does it. Keep coming back.

Pearls of wisdom. They are much more than ornaments or decoration.

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