Lectionary Reflection for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (BTCB) by Daniel J. Treier, commenting on Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23:

“. . . A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, / and favor is better than silver or gold” (22:1); “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; / be wise enough to desist. / When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; / for suddenly it takes wings to itself, / flying like an eagle toward heaven” (22:4-5); “The rich is wise in self-esteem, / but an intelligent poor person sees through the pose” (28:11; also 28:6).

The rhetorical purpose of quoting so many passages is to establish the prominence of the Proverbs theme that riches do not offer ultimate profit. Scholars debate the exact contours of the book’s approach to wealth. Perhaps the debate stems not only from preoccupation with unanswerable questions about original authors, settings, and editors, but also from common inability to appreciate to sapiential nature of the material.

Proverbs offers myriad sayings with various perspectives, resulting not only in aggregate balance but also in contingent resources for pastoral use. In some settings the value of wealth as a necessary resource and an element of divine blessing should be acknowledged. In other settings emphasis must lie on potential dangers: wealth as a false refuge supplanting God, a means pretending to be an end or pointing merely to proximate ends, or a (mistaken) end that people seek inappropriately or excessively.

If contemporary people complain that Proverbs and the Christian tradition criticize earthly goods too strongly, that may reveal our pastoral imbalance more than the tradition’s weakness. If, alternatively, contemporary people complain that Proverbs and the Christian tradition are too conservative in valuing moderate wealth as a typical result of hard work, then possibly that reveals more about our political commitments or contingent circumstances and the relative emphases they elicit.

Nevertheless, Proverbs contains the resources not for flaccid balance, but instead to address whichever extremes a cultural moment affords. We should not be naïve about the dangerous temptation to interpret Proverbs through bourgeois lenses that justify comforts we hold dear.

©2011 by Daniel J. Treier. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.