“Wisdom has built her house” | November 12


Texts: Proverbs 9:1-6; Matthew 11:28-30

There is a house with a table, set for company.  On this table is a feast: Wine and bread and meat.  Everything that makes for a good meal.

The doors of this house open wide, always unlocked, ready to receive whoever walks in.

It’s not a secret.  It’s not a hidden place, tucked in some out-of-the way grove.  There are no fences or gates, no passcodes.

The owner of this house is Wisdom.  She built it.  She set up the posts, leveled the beams, designed the way this room flows into that one.

Wisdom has built her house and gives an open invitation.  She walks through the city, calling out.  She cruises the countryside, searching for takers.  She opens her contacts and selects “Send All.”  Wisdom has issued an invitation:  Come to me, feast, rest, learn.

Even better, the house that Wisdom built will come to you.  Look for it, and there it is.  Occasionally it shows up when we’re not even looking.

A few weeks back I had one of those all too rare moments where I may have briefly stepped inside this house and glanced around.

Back in the spring when I was writing the Sabbatical grant I included funds for a new bike.  Thankfully, the Lilly Foundation deemed this worthy of Sabbatical activity.  They issued the full grant check, with the encouragement to begin making purchases and reservations and whatever else in preparation for next summer’s Sabbatical.  So on a Monday afternoon in the middle of October, Abbie and I headed down to Baer Wheels, on High Street, to purchase a bike I had been eyeing.

This moment began with a stray thought, about half way down the sidewalk, looking at the trees on the street.  It was a beautiful fall day and even though the trees still had almost all their leaves, I found myself already missing them.

Then another thought: It’s a Monday, my Sabbath.

It’s a Sabbath, and it’s a beautiful day outside and these trees are stunning.

It’s a Sabbath, it’s a lovely day among these trees and I’m healthy and going for a walk down a beautiful street, and I’m sharing this with someone I love.

It’s a Sabbath, and it’s a beautiful day outside, and the trees, and I’m healthy and going for a walk down this beautiful street with my wife whom I love.  And all our children are at school, good schools, learning important things.  And we’re walking to a bike store.  Not driving to a bike store, walking to a bike store right around the corner from where we live.  And I’m going to buy a bike, with other people’s money.

How in the world could I almost miss this moment?

If I can’t be grateful and feast on the goodness of this moment, then I have officially lost at the game of life.  I turned to Abbie and said just as much.  She agreed.

So maybe it took all of those factors to finally hear the invitation, but I heard it.  Hopefully you’ve heard it at least once.  We glimpse that house that’s been waiting for us.  We step inside for a bit.  The single dimension of the line of time, in which we so frequently move from point A to point B and on to points C and D…the line of time takes on width and height and becomes a place to dwell.  The second and minute hands keep moving, but there’s still something there, something that feels almost like a place, to walk around, even explore, or sit and rest for a while.  Even, have a meal.

Seventy years ago Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel coined the phrase a “sanctuary in time.”  He was referring to the Jewish Sabbath.  While other ancient cultures focused on holy objects, holy spaces, holy buildings, it was the peculiarity of the Jewish tradition, Heschel wrote, to focus on the holiness of time.  The sanctification of time.

Writing in early 1945, with the bullets and bombs of World War II still flying, the death camps still exterminating his people, Heschel wrote, “Technical civilization is man’s conquest of space.  It is a triumph frequently achieved by sacrificing an essential ingredient of existence, namely, time.  In technical civilization, we expend time to gain space.  To enhance our power in the world of space is our main objective.  Yet to have more does mean to be more.  The power we attain in the world of space terminates abruptly at the borderline of time.  But time is the heart of existence.” (Sabbath, p. 3)

Heschel pointed back to Genesis 1, in which the heavens and earth are created.  The first thing Elohim the Creator declares to be holy is not an object of creation, not even us amazing humans, but the Sabbath.  Time.  “So Elohim blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.”  Elohim creates a sanctuary in time, a cathedral.

Or, to tie it back in to Wisdom, a house.

“Wisdom has built her house..and set her table,” Proverbs 9 says.

Wisdom is one of the unsung heroes of the Hebrew Scriptures, or at least under-reported.  In Proverbs 8, Wisdom is speaking in the first person.  She says, “Yahweh created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.  Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth” (Proverbs 8:22-23).  As this passage would have it, even before Genesis 1, Wisdom was.  Wisdom playfully accompanies and assists in the process of creation.

When that singular, unimaginably dense point of pure possibility goes bang, it is through Wisdom that the cosmos takes on length and width and height and becomes a place to dwell.  The house that Wisdom built is made possible in space, and appears to us in time.  Wisdom is a way to live, not just as biological creatures that are born and die along the vast timeline of history, but to live well, as  spiritual beings.  To consciously live in communion with the same Spirit that created and creates us.

Like that rare moment when you realize that everything around you is a gift.  The moment holds you there and extends the feast.

The book of Sirach didn’t make it into the Hebrew Bible, but it was known and influential by the time of Jesus.  In Sirach, Wisdom again speaks for herself and says, “Come to me, all you who desire me and eat your fill of my fruits” (24:19).  Later it says about Wisdom, “Put your neck under her yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by” (52:26).  It’s Wisdom back in invitation mode, calling out, inviting, maybe even pleading.

So when Jesus evokes those words in the passage that we read from Matthew, he’s evoking the entire Wisdom tradition, inviting people in the same way that Wisdom invites all people, to enter into the sanctuary in time that he offers.

Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is good (a better translation than “easy”), and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

This invitation goes out to all that are weary and carrying heavy burdens.

Somewhere along the path of life we all qualify.

We pick up burdens that aren’t ours to carry.  They accumulate like software on a hard drive, things we thought we needed, cluttering our lives and slowing down processing speed.

Or we have other people’s burdens loaded onto us.  A loved one’s addiction catches us between wanting to love and support them while also trying to avoid enabling behavior.  A perpetrator’s sexual violence becomes a survivor’s trauma, weighted with shame and confusion.

Or sometimes there are loads so generationally ingrained and socially pervasive they hide in the very patterns we assume to be normal.  In 1899 Rudyard Kippling wrote a poem called “The White Man’s Burden.”  It was during the Philippine-American War.  The poem suggested that while it involved sacrifice and thankless labor, it was the moral duty of whites to advance civilization into the lands of non-white folks, for their own good.  Military conquest was one of the key ways of doing this.

Half a century later Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel would reflect on the bitter fruits of technical civilization, consumed with the conquest of space.

We carry personal and collective burdens.  We carry them through our days, from point A to point B, and on to points C and D.  They come to define how we move through time, how we inhabit the world.

It would be nice if Jesus’ invitation were one of simply laying down our burdens.  “Come to me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Lay your burden down and go forth free of weight and obligation.”

Instead, Jesus offers something like a burden-exchange program.  Laying down one burden and accepting another.  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is good, and my burden is light”

Rather than simply lay down the white man’s burden, and walk away free of further responsibility, we are given the holy burden of decolonizing our minds and building just relationships.  Rather than simply doing our own trauma work, we are given opportunities to walk with others on the same journey, a good and holy, and even light burden.  Rather than just de-cluttering our lives, we are given the holy task of living fully into the moment, of taking up Wisdom’s invitation to her feast, entering her house, inviting friends.

A sanctuary in time.  Hearing the gentle and fierce call of Christ, into restoration, into the house that Wisdom is building.