Wisdom books sell like hotcakes in our airports. They are displayed on racks under such labels as “Health,” “Relationships,” “Spirituality.” We may not call them wisdom books but, in the biblical sense, that really is what they purport to be; for in the languages of the Bible, “wisdom” means the kind of practical knowledge that leads to success, happiness, fulfillment.
Today's First Reading is the beginning of a poem (Prov 9:1-18) which personifies sanity and stupidity as two goddesses. Woman Wisdom and Woman Folly, competing for the Israelites’ loyalty. Each offers the passerby her attractive invitation to come in and enjoy a banquet. Answering the invitation of Woman Wisdom leads to life; the seduction of Woman Folly gets you locked into a tomb.
When we look for the wisdom of Woman Wisdom, we find at the heart of the poem, a few verses beyond today's reading, this decidedly unseductive statement: “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.” This is not the kind of teaching that sells books in airports. Yet, when we attend carefully to biblical Wisdom, we learn that “Fear of the Lord” is not craven terror but rather faith in the Creator as the maker and sustainer of heaven and earth and the giver and nurturer of our life.
Our New Testament readings spell out that wisdom theme in terms of Christian faith and life. Ephesians is alluding to the Eucharist as Wisdom's banquet, when the letter urges us to live not foolishly but wisely and then speaks of “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” And when we hear the Gospel speak of drinking the blood and eating the flesh of Jesus, we recognize that the fullness of wisdom for us is accepting Jesus as Eternal Wisdom made flesh for us and inviting us to a way of living that is the Creator's idea of life for the world.