Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 and Psalm 78:1-7 • Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 or Amos 5:18-24 and Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 or Psalm 70 • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 • Matthew 25:1-13
This week's readings offer a rare selection from the apocrypha – the also ran category of scripture. The Wisdom of Solomon, probably written within 100 years before the birth of Jesus, sets the tone for the rest of the texts. Each offers its own slant on wisdom; the story Jesus tells is almost a promotional advertisement for getting wise.
In the Matthew reading, Jesus talks about ten young women, five foolish and five wise. The details are confusing, involving wedding customs in a different place and time. The bottom line is that at the end of the day – or night, in this case – the five wise girls are prepared, while the foolish are not.
Many read this story and wonder how to make sense of the wise not helping the foolish. How could refusing to share be the right thing to do? It's a great question and goes to the heart of the message here: some things can't be shared. Some things are a person's own responsibility. Even the process of focusing on another – here, being overly solicitous of the foolish girls – is unwise.
What is wisdom, then? Well, part of it is the old girl scout motto, be prepared. The wise girls were ready that night. They had thought ahead about what the night would involve, maybe putting together the supplies they would need ahead of time. The wise girls had planned.
Wisdom, though, involves more than a good weekly planner and a set of folders. Wisdom involves emotional self-management. It involves noticing one's own anxiety. Many emotions can cover up anxiety. One can be mad at the doctor, for example, instead of noticing one's fear at the thought of losing a loved one. Once the underlying fear associated with a problem is identified, one can more realistically assess the situation. More objectivity provides a way to sort out a problem from all sides.
When the emotional system works in tandem with the intellectual system, more choices for the path forward can develop. The connections with friends, family, colleagues, and even professionals, when needed, soon broaden a person's understanding of a problem and the options one might choose from. All these steps – increasing awareness of one's own emotions, considering them, and connecting with others – lead to an increased capacity to be thoughtful.
Thoughtfulness is a synthesis, perhaps: part reason, part emotion, and part oneself. This third part, oneself, may get the least attention. In every person, though, is a capacity to develop a self: a solid self with an awareness of its own principles and goals in life. Focused on its own work, a solid self is humbly aware of its limitations. And a solid self develops slowly over time, motivated by assorted challenges, from the mundane to the extraordinary. The slow, small steps approach is supported by findings in neuroscience. Over time, brain plasticity allows a person to change her own wiring, so to speak, developing new pathways and avoiding old ones.
Going back to the foolish and the wise girls at the wedding party, I wonder about the foolish girls. Did any of them learn from the evening? Maybe the fact that no one solved their problems for them helped them to wake up to their own responsibility for self. Or maybe, more basically, they noticed that, while they were left out in the dark, the wise girls were having all the fun! In a promotional ad campaign for wisdom, its capacity to lead towards a life free from care may be its strongest selling point. Life remains challenging; but for the wise, the burden is light.
Morning: What do I want to accomplish today? How do these tasks relate to my principles?
Evening: What principles that matter to me were reflected in my life today?
Wisdom 6:15-16 To fix one's thought on Wisdom is perfect understanding, and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought.