2 August. Proverbs chapters 22-23.
The first part of chapter 22 finishes the “one-liner” sayings of Solomon that we have looked at over the last few days. The remainder of today’s reading is headed “Sayings of the wise” and the main thrust of this section of the book is about living in moderation, and avoiding excess. There are particular warnings for those who move in the circles of the rich and powerful (23:1-5/20-21) and of the dangers of drunkenness (23:29-35). The wise person should live a frugal lifestyle, not seek power and wealth, and avoid addictions.
There are also warnings for those who, by contrast, associate with the poor (22:22-23). Poor people are not to be taken advantage of, as they have God’s favour. But they are not idealised here: among the poor are those who are given to anger and fail to repay loans (22:24-27), and those who offer hospitality only out of convention and not genuine friendship (23:6-7). The wise person has to distance themselves from such “foolish” behaviour (in the Biblical sense of the word).
What can Christians today learn from this? There has been much talk in the Church in recent decades of God’s bias to the poor”, and much condemnation of corporate greed and personal riches. But if we take these proverbs seriously, we need to be aware of the sins that so often go with poverty as well as those which are fuelled by wealth.
Jesus was known for associating with anyone: rulers and rich people, farmers and fishermen, beggars and prostitutes. He enjoyed the hospitality he was offered, but as far as we know did not get drunk. He lived as a single man, probably with single women among his disciples, but as far as we know remained celibate. He had no money to lend, but gave sacrificially of his time and healing powers. He sent his disciples out with the good news of the coming Kingdom, reliant on the hospitality of others, but told them to shake the dust off their feet when it was not forthcoming.
So the lesson seems to be, for your own benefit seek out the company of people who live decently. They might be rich or poor, that does not matter, as long as they are not seeking to take advantage of you and do not threaten your safety or moral welfare.
But when it comes to the mission of that Church, like that of Jesus, then risks do have to be taken in order to take the Gospel to everyone. No wonder Jesus told his disciples to be “as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves”, In other words, watch out for the dangers posed by people at all levels of society, but give them the benefit of the doubt in the name of Christ.