Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
‘You that are simple, turn in here!’
To those without sense she says,
‘Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity,* and live,
and walk in the way of insight.’
Woman Wisdom throws a dinner party. I love the images that these lines evoke. I imagine a strong, creative woman, one who designs and builds her own house, who goes into the kitchen and gets her hands dirty preparing the food. She has servants, but she doesn’t rely on them to do all the work. This is her feast, and she wants to prepare it.
This is a true feast, with meat and wine that average folks wouldn’t get to eat very often, but she doesn’t restrict her invitation to the wealthy or the smart, instead she invites the confused, the simple, the lost. In the poem we read today, Woman Wisdom is the ultimate example of God’s hospitality.
So who is she? Wisdom, we learn from the book of Proverbs, was with God from the beginning of creation. She is also known as Sophia, and eventually the Holy Spirit in the Christian Trinity. But in the Hebrew Scriptures, she is simply known as Woman Wisdom, the personification of the insight and knowledge of God. And Woman Wisdom is a nester.
I, too, am a nester. I love creating a cozy, beautiful space to live in and then cooking nourishing food for myself and my friends. I love the process of preparing meals almost more than I like eating them. When I moved out of my parents’ house and lived on my own for the first time, the best part of it was being able to invite people over to my space, whether it was a tiny dorm room, or my suite in seminary, or today, years later, to my cozy apartment in the forest.
I love being a hostess, I love feeding people, and I love this personification of the Divine as a woman like me…God doing women’s work, creating a home, cooking, feeding, welcoming us in to be nurtured and fed.
Being fed is a very common theme in scripture. Following the lectionary, we are coming to the end of six weeks of Gospel readings about bread, culminating last week and this week with Jesus going on and on about eating his flesh and drinking his blood—thankfully, Will covered that passage last week so I could choose something else! Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, we ask to be fed our daily bread, and one of the most tangible things that unites us as Christians is the act of eating together in Holy Communion. Being fed is so prevalent an idea in scripture because it is a central aspect of our lives as human beings, and always has been. Obviously, we all need to eat, but there is a distinction between eating and being fed.
Human babies are completely dependent on their caregivers to feed them for a much longer time than most other animals. Our first experiences of love, of connection, of attachment, are through the act of being fed. Children understand the concept of God’s love because of the love they experience with their parents, and the most basic expression of that love is the act of feeding, from the very first day of our lives.
And so, I think there is something very primal to all this feeding language in the bible, all the different ways food is used as metaphor or in prayers or parables. It taps into a place in our psyches that was formed from birth, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how in our modern western culture, our relationships with food and eating are often complicated and unhealthy…frankly, so are our relationships with religion!
So, in this passage from Proverbs, Woman Wisdom has prepared a feast and invites everyone to come enjoy it, she wants to feed the people, and the food is not just succulent lamb and hearty bread and spiced wine, the food is the gift of wisdom herself.
Wisdom is earned and learned, that much is clear from the wisdom literature in the Bible. God does not expect us to know everything, to be wise and fully evolved and perfect in every way. If that was the case, we wouldn’t need scripture, or teachers, or preachers or prayer! Instead, God invites us to Wisdom’s table, to her delicious and generous feast, to be fed.
The question is, why do so few people accept her invitation? If you’ve been following the news lately, you probably know what a severe lack of wisdom there is in our country right now. We have politicians saying publicly that women can’t get pregnant from rape, and that heterosexual sex can’t transmit HIV! One of the things that shocks me the most about these statements are that the men making them have no shame about making such damaging, offensive, and ignorant statements in public. At the very least, I would hope that an elected official would have enough wisdom to keep his ignorance and misogyny to himself, but today, that is obviously not the case.
People who are confused and ignorant are not accepting the invitation to listen and learn, to be fed with wisdom and understanding, and unfortunately, too many of those people have too much of the power in our world.
Perhaps part of the problem is that Wisdom’s invitation is not as flashy or tempting as the alternative. Wisdom does not offer a quick fix, or easy answers. She doesn’t offer instant gratification. Wisdom takes time, and patience to attain. Wisdom requires a willingness to be open to new experiences and ideas, both good and bad, and to learn from them. I think it’s interesting that in our reading, Woman Wisdom specifically invites the ‘simple.’
Now, many of us would balk at being called simple, but as I’ve been thinking about what it takes to embrace wisdom, I’ve realized that ego is probably the biggest stumbling block for most people…
To come and be fed at Wisdom’s table, you first need to admit that you are hungry, that you don’t have all she has to offer. For some of us, maybe for all of us at one time or another, that’s a difficult thing to admit. When we are teenagers, we know everything, and that’s a normal developmental stage. Perhaps part of the problem is that some people never grow out of it. To truly learn something, you must first admit you do not know it yet, and understand that there is no shame in that.
So is Woman Wisdom’s feast only a metaphorical one? I don’t think so. This is not just a lovely poem. I think there are ways we can actually be fed by wisdom, if we are willing to accept her invitation. When we read scripture with open minds and hearts, we are fed. When we listen to each other without judgment, we are fed. When we open ourselves to worshipping God through song or dance or stillness, we are fed. And then, the beautiful thing is, we go out and feed others!
I hope, therefore, that we are a church full of simple people, people willing to admit that we are often lost and confused—those very people that Woman Wisdom extends her warm invitation to—so that we can be open to being fed, to being led in the way of the wisdom of God, and then to create our own feasts where everyone is invited to the table. AMEN.