What does it take to live successfully? What does a life well lived look like? These questions have occupied human beings throughout history.
Some centuries before Christ there was an international movement dedicated to these questions. We meet some members of this movement in Old Testament books such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Commonly described as the “Wisdom movement”, its thinkers assumed there was a moral order built into the universe, and that by studying it they could learn how to live in harmony with it. Their conclusions often come by the way of proverbs, short pithy sayings that try to encapsulate a particular insight.
Something many scholars have highlighted about Jesus is that he seems to fit into this mould. We don’t find too many extended sermons on a single theme. Rather the Gospels provide a collection of stories and sayings of Jesus. Short and pithy, striking and often confronting, they represent his roadmap to a life well lived.
Jesus’s type of wisdom was subversive. Conventional wisdom reinforces the status quo, gives expression to “common sense” (which usually refers to the culturally sanctioned way of viewing the world). Subversive wisdom calls that into question, and provides another way of viewing the world.
Woe to you who are rich. Bless are you who are poor.
You cannot serve God and money.
Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth… But store up treasure is in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body what you will wear.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock on the door will be open to you.
You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.
Forgive someone who sins against you not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction… Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only if you find it.
Jesus, the teacher of subversive wisdom, calls me to an alternate way of viewing the world, an alternate view of what constitutes a successful life. His wisdom teaching is about more than a series of sayings; it’s an entirely alternate orientation to life.
I worry sometimes that the church has become so mainstream and the individuals in it so middle-class (including myself) that rather than questioning the dominant world view, we unwittingly embrace it. Our points of distinction become things that really belong on the periphery. I find that Jesus the teacher of subversive wisdom keeps bringing this into question, keeps forcing me to ask uncomfortable questions. But in asking these questions and finding a faltering way to answer them in my lived experience, I find life, freedom and meaning.
This is a Jesus I can follow.