In preparing for today’s message, I have made the executive decision that the following statement is true: Scripture is to its reader as Mr. Myagi is to Daniel Larusso, the Karate Kid. (maybe a more modern day example for the youngins….)
We, those of us fortunate individuals who have seen the Karate Kid series, know the scene: Mr. Myagi sits a bucket of soap in front of Daniel and teaches him the simple instructions, “wax on, wax off.” Daniel reluctantly proceeds to wash all of the antique cards Mr. Myagi has lined up. There were also some painting moves and sanding the floor - left/right and up/down and circles.
Daniel wasn’t excited about it, yet he signed up to be trained by him and he learns the process. When Daniel finally complains to Mr. Myagi about the grueling task, his teacher springs the wisdom trap on him and demonstrates how he was actually teaching him karate moves in the process. When the dramatic music escalates during Daniel’s final match and his energy is about spent, he turns to those moves that are now ingrained in him from training. I dare say, that at a deeper level, it taught Daniel a lesson in trusting his teacher and having patience.
The lesson started at a surface level - learning an exact action - and then it tricked him! Underneath, he learned deeper lessons.
Both of our Scriptures have some very surface level instructions to impart:
-Don’t bribe God
-Don’t think of yourself as more righteous than another person
-Give generously to the works of God
These are great things to learn. They’re great surface level lessons - paint the fence, don’t bribe God - practically the same thing. These literal lessons are good even more so because of what is taught underneath.
First, let’s see the contexts within which they were written:
Sirach: Sirach was written to a group of wealthy young adults instructing them on wisdom. The time within which they were living were particularly divisive times because of what was happening socially and politically. Sirach’s book of proverbs and general advice sought to guide the readers’ conduct through those tenuous times. (Larry Broding, word-sunday.com) The advice was building blocks to learning how to navigate tricky times.
Luke: this Gospel, a recording of Jesus’ life, was written during a time that tax collectors were seen as collaborators of injustice. Also, the Pharisees were religious leaders who had a bad reputation. Both tax collectors and Pharisees were not well-liked in the community. So, for both to be used as examples in a lesson on righteousness is a great example of Jesus always springing twists and turns on his listeners.
(I’m going to mention one side note: when you hear the phrase “ as generously as you can afford. For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you sevenfold,” this does not mean that if you give $10, you will be repaid $70. These are not money-making instructions! Verses like these, when taken literally, are where a misconception of God can be taught. Keep in mind that the number 7 is used often in the Bible for a symbol of completion or wholeness. So, this is more a lesson that by giving to the works of God as generously as we can, we find wholeness.)
So, these teachings are an imparting of practical life lessons and wisdom…. much like Mr. Myagi’s relationship with Daniel, they do not stay on the surface level.
Especially, when reading the parable from Jesus in Luke, it is tempting to walk away from it thinking “ok, be humble. Got it. Check. Moving on.” And that’s true - it’s a lesson in the story. Please do be humble.
David Lose comments, though, that is where the trap has sprung. “Because the minute you decide to take this parable to heart and “be humble” like the Pharisee, it’s pretty hard not to also be grateful you’re not like that Pharisee. And then the trap has sprung. It’s not about you, you see. Not your humility or lack of pride or ….one justified by faith. It’s not about you; it’s about God.” (workingpreacher.org)
The wisdom imparted here: it is not about you. It is about God. (This is the moment in Karate Kid when the dramatic music rises. I wish I had one of those tambourine things.)
These Scriptures are not to simply get you to think of yourself in realistic terms - and not exalt yourself. They are to see that it is all about God.
Even when we hear in the tax collector’s confession an example that we also ought to live our lives fully and entirely aware of our status as a sinner, it’s a trap … “shift attention away from God’s activity to your status”...Once again, it’s not about you -- not about you being a sinner or a wretch or one who does not deserve or merit God’s grace or however you might want to formulate it. It’s just not about you; it’s about God.”
Don’t try to bribe God...because it doesn’t bode well for you...AND because God doesn’t show partiality to anyone. Because God doesn’t have favorites.
Yes, we learn about God and experience God and try comprehending God through our experiences as humans...so, there will always be an element of ourselves when we think about God. But, sometimes we need to get over ourselves, too.
I love Larry Broding’s words on this. When he reflected on how modern day worship doesn’t include much of the “pretenses” of before (we don’t include all the same pre-game warm-ups to worship as was done in the past - which isn’t bad or good, it’s just different), he says that today’s modern ‘lack of pretense’ doesn’t excuse us from a call to humility. Worship demands we put ourselves fully before God to “simply be as creature with our Creator.” (word-sunday.com) Our prelude and call to worship should truly be a moment for ourselves to right our minds and enter into worship humbly.
The author of Sirach, and also Jesus, were trying to get readers to see worship and life through the eyes of God. It’s not about you! It’s about God!
It’s not really about waxing the dozens of cars or painting the endless fence, it’s about learning right technique.
...give of ourselves generously and honestly, we honor God’s works
...remind ourselves that the world does not live and think and act as we do or revolve around us, we honor God’s creation
...lift others up before ourselves, we honor God’s people
It all needs to point toward God and the Divine message of love, justice, and mercy.
Whether you follow the letter of the law and the instructions of piety to a tee….or you are the worst of what society would deem a sinner...it’s not about you. It is about the God “who delights in ...welcoming the outcast, and healing all who are in need.” (David Lose, workingpreacher.org)
Don’t underestimate the lessons that seem surface level. Don’t get so jaded by whatever is happening around you that you miss the wisdom underneath.
In the most annoying and frustrating of circumstances, we can find God.
I love the wisdom bestowed in these Scriptures. It’s life’s lessons wrapped up in straight forward teachings. So, in the next few weeks, we’re going to look at wisdom teachings from the Bible - we’re going to look at Proverbs and Psalms. My favorite Proverb? “like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” (Prov 11:22)
If you have a favorite Proverb (or one that you don’t understand), let me know!
No matter our age, we can gain wisdom. Wisdom that will help point our lives toward God, because that is truly what all our actions should do.
Wax on, wax off, friends.
Scripture: Sirach 35:12-17; Luke 18:9-14