Tolpuddle and Puddletown
Sunday 19th August 2018
Proverbs 9.1-6; John 6.51-58
Contrast what we heard about Wisdom earlier with these verses later in chapter 9 of Proverbs: “Folly is an unruly woman; she is simple and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way, “Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says, “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!” But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.”
The section we heard earlier has been chosen by the lectionary writers presumably because it talks of bread and wine, but it cannot really be understood without reading the rest of the chapter where we find the alternative to choosing wisdom – the life of folly.
There are a number of allusions that can be found in these passages. Scholars don’t always agree about which they find important, but one of the things about metaphorical and symbolic language is that the interpretations are not usually limited to only one shape.
So in the picture of Lady Wisdom we can discern a number of things. She is a Creator, who has built and furnished her house.
The seven pillars may represent a number of things. First, seven is used in the Bible to represent completeness, wholeness, perfection – think of the seven days of creation – so in this context the author may be telling us that Wisdom has everything set out in completeness, just as it should be.
A house with seven pillars is a large and permanent structure. Wisdom’s home therefore has firm foundations and is not likely to topple. The Seventh Heaven was deemed to be the highest of the heavenly places where God dwells.
We see too in this image of Lady Wisdom that she is a woman of true hospitality. She has slaughtered animals (perhaps a veiled reference to a religious sacrifice), and prepared wine. She has set the table ready for a feast and sent servants out to invite people to join her at her table. Hear the echoes of this in some of the parables Jesus told.
She sits at the highest part of the town – again this could be a reference to God – since we know the divine is associated with high places. And she calls not to the high and mighty but to the simple – here this most likely means the ordinary uneducated people rather than those with any specific learning difficulty.
What does she offer them? Bread and wine – more echoes. But those who partake must make a choice; Lady Wisdom calls them to lay aside immaturity and walk in the way of insight.
Lady Folly, however, is a different kettle of fish. She sits outside her house – the place where prostitutes would be seated.
She is lazy in her invitation, just calling out to any who pass by in the hope they might stop. And she’s not offering much – illicit water and food taken in secrecy.
While wisdom’s feast is in the open, Folly chooses the darkness of concealment for hers. But what those who stagger past Folly’s house and accept the enticing call to secrecy do not realise is that this way leads to death.
The idea that foreign gods are like prostitutes is found in a number of places in Scripture – those who originally heard this passage would have been aware of these references.
So people need to make a choice. There is the way of wisdom, the way of God and life and hope. Or there is the way of folly, the path towards a death and deception.
We may not see it in such stark terms but these are choices we are faced with each day. Do we follow the pathway which leads to life or do we take the turning that points towards death?
When we look closely at the story, we see that what Wisdom offers is much the best, but she also makes demands, whereas folly entices anyone she can.
In our Gospel reading, those listening to Jesus are facing the same choice. He is offering bread which leads to life. He talks of giving them his flesh and blood.
To a Jew who has been brought up on the religious law, this sounds like cannibalism which is abhorrent. For Jewish people cannot eat flesh which still has blood within it, since that is the life of the being. Those who keep strict kosher today still require the blood to be drained from any animal that they consume.
Jesus is explaining that what he offers in giving himself – flesh and blood – is an opportunity for people to take in his life. When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we are feeding on Christ himself and he gives us life.
There are many ways of interpreting this across the Christian traditions.
As with much of the Bible, some take what Jesus says quite literally – when we devour bread and wine at a communion, we are eating the actual body and blood of Christ. This is known as transubstantiation, and is the official Roman Catholic position on the eucharist.
Other believe that the bread and wine remain bread and wine in their physical form but become Jesus Christ in a spiritual way. This is Consubstantiation.
A further view sees bread and wine as purely symbolic, that we are re-enacting what Jesus did at the Last Supper but that the bread and wine are purely representational and symbolic rather than changing anything in themselves.
And other views fill the gaps between the ones I’ve mentioned this morning too.
Whichever view we take, we need to be fed by Jesus.
Our physical bodies are sustained by a whole host of goodies – some health-giving, some essential, others naughty but nice. Unlike the people of the first century, we have a wide variety of choice – too much, some people think. We are fortunate – many people around the world have to survive on what they can get.
But even with food for our physical bodies, we need to make choice. If we ate only chocolate or drank only wine, if we indulged in cakes and sweets but never ate the perhaps less appealing green veg, we would fast become obese and unhealthy.
Like our physical bodies, our spiritual lives can be nurtured in many ways. But there is only one way to get true food for our souls, and that is the way of Jesus Christ.
How can we feed on him? The way of wisdom calls to offer us bread and wine. We are here this morning feeding on Christ, by giving ourselves to sharing with each other at God’s table.
We need always to remember that this meal we come to is hosted not by me or by the church but by Christ. It is his meal. It is his body and blood that we share.
But as we turn aside to share in that meal, we would do well to heed the voice of Lady Wisdom, the voice that calls us to the real food, calls us as well to put aside immaturity and to walk with insight.
We receive wisdom and insight when we respond to the call of God and not to the call of folly – other gods. We receive wisdom and insight when we do not prostitute ourselves to the enticing calls of false saviours.
Each day we are bombarded with calls on our time, our money, our focus, our skills.
Come to me – all will be well. Send money here – you’ll not regret it. Choose what you know you shouldn’t and hide it from yourself and from the world.
What stolen water and secret food do we indulge in?
Many of the things that feed our lives are not bad in themselves, But the only offer which can bring true life is that of Jesus Christ.
What do we try to trust in rather than God? If we look at how we spend our time and our money, does it reflect that we see Jesus as our life, as essential to our being? Or are we being too frequently called away to things that seem enticing at the time but which won’t be feeding us for eternity?
What things take the place of Lady Folly in our life?
What does Lady Wisdom call us to do?
The path of spiritual maturity is one that is centred around God and our spiritual lives.
The path of the wise is to love in the fear of the Lord – not fear as in being frightened, but a recognition of the place of God as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of all that is, a relationship of awe and thanksgiving, and ultimately one of trust.
To fear the Lord is to trust in God, above all else.
And we can help ourselves do this through prayers, fasting, obedience, knowledge of Scripture, coming together with other Christians for worship and fellowship, and in the light of today’s Gospel reading, receiving the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ at the table to which he calls us in communion with thanksgiving, and then sends us out into the world to proclaim and share his love, to call others to the feast, where we shall find eternal life.