What counts as wisdom these days? And what is folly? April 1st is a traditional day to make a fool of someone, though that is not a practice to encourage. Perhaps it is wiser to recognise our own folly and admit it on All Fools Day.
The Hebrew Scriptures, on which Christianity draws, is composed of three parts: Law, Prophets and Wisdom. Books such as Proverbs and Job are amongst the collection of received wisdom. Folly and Wisdom are often contrasted in the collection of sayings in Proverbs. There are many warnings about thinking that you are wise, for example, “Do you see someone wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.” (Proverbs 26:12). In the teaching of Jesus there are elements of this wisdom tradition, like the parable of the wise and foolish who build their houses, one on rock and the other on sand (Matthew 7.24-29).
So what is wisdom and what is foolish? One of the key features of the Hebrew Scriptures is the teaching that we should care for those who are vulnerable, such as orphans, widows and strangers. To be merely concerned about yourself and your wealth is not wise. Jesus takes up this idea in the parable of the rich man who thought he could store up his wealth and live an easy life, eating and drinking and being merry, only to die a sudden death (Luke 12.18). Jesus also teaches that it is important to care for the ‘little ones’ by which he meant not just children but those who are vulnerable and at risk.
One of the wonderful aspects of the current pandemic is the way that people are showing a concern for their neighbours who might be at risk. This is true wisdom. Whereas the panic about stocking up on toilet rolls or the worry about the stock markets may well be folly. Discovering that what is really important is our relationships with each other, this I suggest, is wisdom. Thinking that we can exist by our own efforts, I believe, is foolish.
Often the wisdom of ‘the world’ is set against the wisdom of the Gospel. ‘The World’ in this context means the system of thinking and behaving that puts oneself and money at the heart of things. In the scriptures this is judged to be folly. The Good News is that love and justice will be given to the poor and oppressed. Sayings such as ‘the last will be first’, and ‘how splendid are the humble’ show what Gospel wisdom is.
So, on All Fools Day, and everyday, we could show our love and concern for those who are in desperate need, whether they ‘deserve it or not’. Such folly is the mark of the wise.