The readings are from the Catholic Lectionary for daily Mass, and the headline reflects the world in which I blog.
Like flowing water is the heart of the king in the hand of the Lord,
who turns it where he pleases.
A man’s conduct may strike him as upright,
the Lord, however, weighs the heart.
To act virtuously and with justice
is more pleasing to the Lord than sacrifice.
Haughty eye, proud heart,
lamp of the wicked, nothing but sin.
The hardworking man is thoughtful, and all is gain;
too much haste, and all that comes of it is want.
To make a fortune with the help of a lying tongue,
such the idle fantasy of those who look for death.
The wicked man’s soul is intent on evil,
he looks on his neighbour with dislike.
When a mocker is punished, the ignorant man grows wiser,
when a wise man is instructed he acquires more knowledge.
The Just One watches the house of the wicked:
he hurls the wicked to destruction.
He who shuts his ear to the poor man’s cry
shall himself plead and not be heard.
The book of Proverbs is a collection of Israel’s wisdom, presented in pithy parallelisms in which the second line adds something specific, surprising or ironic to the first. Often this is the kind of wisdom that’s unpopular. Take the opening couplet of this section. Kings and their courtiers celebrate royal power, and the proverb compares that power to a flowing stream. So far so good. But just as the stream can have its flow directed by a carefully placed hand, so the king’s power may be diverted by the invisible hand of God. God needs to use no power; all the impetus comes from the king who has his own direction. But still, maybe he ends up going the way God wants.This observation about power is of permanent value. Alex Salmond (the king!) planned independence for Scotland; independence meant change; and those who want change most are those who are disadvantged by the status quo. So, in the end of the day, his best support came from the poorer people of Scotland. That was not hs intention; he is certainly not a left-wind politician. But given the force of his politics, it may have been quite easy for God to redirect his movement towards the poor.
At this point critics may say,”Come on, as you say yourself, this can be explained by the law of unintended consequences.Why bring God into it?” And can reply, “Who established that law? Why leave God out of it?”
Or take the last couplet. Here is a different wisdom which suggests that there is a tribunal beyond all worlds by which the ways of the world will be judged. This justice may not be always hold sway in this world, but it cannot be escaped. As you sow, so shall you reap, here and hereafter. Those who have offered a deaf ear to the poor, will find that God is deaf to their cries for help.This might almost be the text for Jesus’ parable of the rich man and the poor man, Dives and Lazarus, in which the “great gulf” between rich and poor in this life is mirrored in the next world as the distance between heaven and hell. The ruthless rich may say that there’s no evidence for the existence of this tribunal. Well, not much maybe, But can they be sure..?
The shrewdness, wit, and toughness of these proverbs is always helpful.
The mother and the brothers of Jesus came looking for him, but they could not get to him because of the crowd. He was told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to see you’ But he said in answer, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.’
In Marks’s gospel this incident is more like a rejection by Jesus of his family’s lack of trust in him-they come to take him home as he’s causing a scandal. Luke leaves their motive unclear, and Jesus’ words are seen as a positive assertion of the new, family of disciples than a rejection his own family.Still it’s hardly an assertion of family values. Life is difficult and messy. Often we seem to be choosing between shades of grey (if that expression still has currency). The sharp, oppositional, clarity of biblical wisdom as seen in the proverbs and in Jesus’ words can indicate where priorities lie. Yes, of course, our own families are important but not as important as the family of those who are channels of God’s goodness. When the apparent welfare of our own familes becomes all-important, the family itself can become a demonic power over the lives of its members.Jesus’ words are scandalous but wise.