Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
My children have a beloved book called Clown of God by Tomie de Paolo. I will not give much detail here so that if you haven’t yet read this book, you can enjoy the book’s surprises. Yet I don’t think I give away too much of the story to say that in this beautifully illustrated book set in medieval Italy, readers discover that yes, someone as silly-looking as a clown – even someone who “only” juggles for a living – is a follower of Christ.
I mention my kids’ book because I think this week’s lectionary readings are about discovering what it takes to become a wise fool, a clown, for Christ. This week’s first readings are variable depending on your tradition, but whether you’re reading in 1 Kings (2:10-12; 3:3-14) or Proverbs (9:1-6), you’ll find each author describing God’s wisdom in contradistinction with human wisdom.
The 1 Kings passage shows the beginning of King Solomon’s reign – the king most known for being wise in Israel’s history. Solomon ascended as a child and was clearly worried about taking on the daunting task of becoming a king, especially following after David’s footsteps. What we readers learn is that having the most carefully chosen rhetoric, or the best ideas isn’t what made Solomon wise. No, the wisest thing Solomon did was to pray to God for wisdom, which God grants.
This is important, for I think in this world of ours, prayer seems to be an especially foolish kind of activity. How many times have I heard Christians denounce other Christians – especially monks and nuns, but also others – who spend their lives in prayer? Our penchant for timely efficiency and for busily filling each moment — because otherwise dinner won’t get done, the kids won’t get to practice, the report won’t happen, the crucial conversation won’t take place — presumes that the contemplative souls among us look like they’re doing nothing at all.
Add in the common view that what Christians really ought to be doing is working in soup kitchens, caring for the sick and poor and the dying, getting into the midst of the world. Prayer isn’t “doing anything” ‘because it doesn’t carry out Jesus’ commandment to love neighbor and to feed the hungry, visit the sick and so on. Mainstream media is fond of pointing out Christians’ hypocrisy in this regard, but we Christians also do quite well enough in criticizing each other, even behind each others’ backs.
I think part of what it means to live as a wise fool, however, is to be willing to embrace exactly what our world names as folly and a waste of time. If your tradition reads the Proverbs passage instead of Kings, that scripture suggests that Wisdom invites all foolish souls to a great banquet. Of course, the gospel reading (John 6:51-58) shows us that the great banquet we fools are invited to is the banquet of heaven in which Jesus gives himself to us as living bread.
Clowns of God will utterly waste time in God’s banquet hall. Wise fools learn that time spent in prayer is not diametrically opposed to “helping people”.
Indeed, wise fools learn that the practices of wasting time in God’s own banquet hall, of Sabbath keeping, and of spending uncountable minutes in prayer are ways of learning how best to be with God’s people who most need us.
Children, those with disabilities, and those with stories too long to hear in one, short, elevator-ride telling need more from us than our standard models of efficiency. They need our patient, steadfast love, and our willingness to be with them even in those moments when we get frustrated and have (apparently) the least amount of time. This is the patience that leads to feeding the hungry, tending to the sick, visiting those in prison.
This patient love can be learned only in the banquet hall of God whose steadfast love endures forever. Let this week’s scriptures therefore embolden us to be clowns for Christ, willing to be “merely” the people who pray.