“The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouting of a ruler among fools.” (Ecclesiastes 9:17, NRSV)
When I first met B. J. Seymour, I saw a petite, soft spoken older woman. I was a young 20 something attending orientation at Randolph-Macon College and B.J. was to be my adviser. I had had bad experiences in the past with advisers. So, I didn’t have very high hopes. In short, based on my first impressions of B. J. I passed a judgement about her. How could she possibly help me? What was I going to learn from her?
But, I would soon be proven wrong. B. J.’s classes were some of my toughest classes at Randolph-Macon. She knew my ability and held me to it. She pushed just enough so that I would not only be challenged, but so I would work harder. B.J. would become a trusted adviser guiding me through my academic career, providing opportunities for me to serve and grow, and all in a quiet, but wise voice.
Luke Skywalker does the same thing when he first meets Yoda, the Jedi Master. All Luke sees is a short, green goblin man. Luke doesn’t even think Yoda could possibly be the Jedi Master. Luke, a lot like I did, failed to see past appearance.
Perhaps Luke expected someone more like Obi-Wan. Someone, perhaps, more human. Someone who spoke louder and with great power and authority. But the lesson Luke learns from Yoda (and I from Dr. Seymour) is that louder is not always better.
The writer of Ecclesiastes tells a small parable in chapter 9 that draws the contrast between a loud, powerful king and a poor, wise man. No one remembered the words of the poor man, yet the words of the powerful king only brought war. Too often we listen to the loudest voices over the calmer, quieter voices. Instead of wisdom, we tend to only find war. Louder and stronger is not always better, the writer reflects.
- When have you passed by someone’s wisdom simply based on their appearance?
- What quiet and calm people do you have in your life?
Pray: Gracious God, forgive us when we make judgments on others based on their appearance. May your Spirit teach us to seek wisdom from those calm and soft voices in our lives. Amen.
The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility goes before honor. (Proverbs 15:33, NRSV)
When Obi-Wan Kenboi brings Luke Skywalker to the Jedi Master for training, Yoda does not want to train him. Luke has decided that the way of the Jedi is exciting and adventurous. Luke has decided he knows what kind of training he needs. And Luke has decided that Yoda could not possibly be the one to offer him that training.
Yoda knows that Luke’s attitude is not in the right place for instruction. Luke is not ready. He needs some humility.
Humility is a hard thing to understand. Humility is the opposite of being proud or boastful. I like how Ellen Davis, an Old Testament scholar, defines humility. “It means,” she writes, “accepting your talents as a gift from God, recognizing them as God’s gift to the world through you, and preparing yourself to use them accordingly.”
I wish I had come across this definition years ago. For the longest time I understood humility more as being modest. As a result, I didn’t let my gifts from God shine as much, fearful that I would be boastful. It reached a point where those personality tests you take in seminary and such told me I lacked confidence in myself. I remember discussing with my mentor lack of confidence being confused with humility.
But Davis’ definition suggests differently. Be confident in our gifts from God. Discipline ourselves in our talents. Seek advice from sages. As Thomas Aquinas has said, “Humility is nothing other than the patient pursuit of your own excellence.”
“Those who ignore instruction despise themselves, but those who heed admonition gain understanding.” (Proverbs 15:32, NRSV)
When I was a kid my parents would not just assign me a chore to complete, but they would give me instructions on how to complete that chore. Some of you may know what I’m talking about. Most of the time the instructions made no sense to me. I could not wrap my head around why they were telling me to do it that. And in the end, there was usually a reason.
It would be (and was) easy to ignore some of the instructions and do it my own way. Sometimes (when I was lucky) things would work out ok. But other times it would usually result in a big mess that one of my parents would have to rescue me out of.
When it comes to our faith it is so easy to assume that we have it all figured out. And that is the very moment we know we don’t! It’s so easy to ignore the advice given to us from older folks in our faith communities. We don’t pray on a good day and think we’re ok. We leave our Bibles on our shelves collecting dust and don’t think twice about it.
This proverb cautions us to not ignore the instructions we are given, but heed the advice or counsel. And I think there is an implication for us to seek someone to be our Yoda – our faith mentor – our wisdom guide – on this journey called faith. A person who will be honest with us and whom we will willingly seek for advice. Someone we feel comfortable talking to about our doubts and struggles; questions
- In what ways have you ignored instruction or advice? What mess did it leave you in?
- In what ways should you heed to advice and counsel of others?
- Who in your life has been a Yoda to your faith life?
- How are you a Yoda to others?
Pray: Lord, thank you for our Yodas and help us graciously receive advice and instruction from others as we grow in our faith. Amen.