Life in the Postmodern Shift
One of the most overlooked fruits borne in the life of someone who genuinely follows the way of Jesus and lives in the Spirit, is wisdom. If we put into practice what Jesus teaches us, we will become increasingly wise.
Wisdom was central to Jesus’ identity, even as a child. The only passage of Scripture about Jesus’ early years is found in Luke 2:40-52. Luke begins this childhood vignette saying, “The child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.” Then Luke tells a story, the only story the gospels record about Jesus as an adolescent.
The story recounts the time Jesus’ parents unintentionally left him at the temple for three days. He was 12 years old. Over the course of those three days Jesus engaged in dialogue with some of the wisest teachers and scholars in Jerusalem, and everyone who heard the tween sensation named Jesus was astonished at his wisdom and understanding.
And that’s it. That story is the only glimpse we get into Jesus’ childhood. Then Luke wraps up this story and Jesus’ entire adolescence and young adulthood by saying, “and Jesus grew in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52). From beginning to end, the only Scripture passage to report on Jesus’ upbringing focusses on his increasing and expanding wisdom.
The next time we encounter Jesus in the gospels he is an adult, a nomadic rabbi rising in influence and fame throughout Galilee for his miraculous power and wisdom. He was perceived by his own disciples as primarily a wisdom teacher—or sage—with healing power. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is called “rabbi” or “teacher” more than any other name or title. His teaching style, parables, rhetoric and aphorisms—provocative, truth-packed one-liners—clearly flow from the ancient Jewish wisdom tradition.
The two major differences that seem to distinguish Jesus from other wisdom teachers at the time were:
- He taught with a unique confidence and authority.
- He routinely communicated an alternative or subversive kind of wisdom that turned conventional wisdom on its head.
Of course, Jesus was not only a wisdom teacher. He was a prophet, healer, miracle worker, activist and revolutionary. For Christians, Jesus is also Messiah, Saviour, Prince of Peace and Son of God. As important as these other aspects of Jesus’ identity are, they unfortunately too often overshadow and even undermine the fact that one of Jesus’ primary roles on earth was “rabbi” or “teacher,” and his primary teaching goal was to disciple people in the way of divine wisdom. As he tells his disciples, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be . . . wise” (Matthew 7:24). He even commands us to “be wise” in Matthew 10:16.
There is an even deeper metaphysical connection between Jesus and divine wisdom in the New Testament. He is not just a wisdom teacher; he is divine wisdom personified. The Gospel of John describes Jesus as the Logos or Word of God. The parallels between John’s description of the Word and the description of Wisdom in Jewish wisdom literature are too obvious to ignore. If you’ve never made this connection before, read John 1 and Proverbs 8.
Here are some of the parallels between the wisdom tradition’s understanding of Wisdom and John’s understanding of Christ as the Logos or Word:
- Both Wisdom and the Word are with God from the beginning (John 1:1-2; Proverbs 8:22-23; Wisdom 6:22; Sirach 24:9).
- Both manifest God’s glory (John 1:14; Wisdom 7:25)
- Both give light and life (John 1:4-5, 9; Wisdom 7:26; Proverbs 3:18).
- Both descend from heaven to impart God’s truth (John 1:14, 17-18; Sirach 24:8-11; Baruch 3:37; Wisdom 9:9-10).
- Both are not well received by humanity (John 1:11; Proverbs 1:24-27; I Enoch 42).
- The influence of the Jewish wisdom tradition on the first-century Christian understanding of Christ is apparent throughout the New Testament. See Hebrews 1, for example. Paul explicitly calls Jesus “the Wisdom of God” in I Corinthians 1:24.
Jesus is divine wisdom. The way of Jesus is the way of wisdom. To be Christ-like is to grow in wisdom. This is good news because, looking at the current state of our world, the need for wisdom has never been greater or more urgent.
Troy Watson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is pastor of Avon Mennonite Church, Stratford, Ont.