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October 1: The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place, for calmness will lay great offenses to rest.

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error proceeding from the ruler: folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place. I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves. –Ecclesiastes 10:4-7 

One of the most impressive sights in the world for me is when someone is able to remain non-anxious in a contentious situation. Solomon calls this wisdom. “If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place, for calmness will lay great offenses to rest.” A young person who is training to be king or in the king’s privy council (that’s the original audience of the book) must learn to maintain a non-anxious presence when someone over him (“the ruler”) gets angry. Back in chapter 8, Solomon says not to be too quick to leave the situation either.

Many times we are tempted to rebel or plot against those in authority when we see just a little folly in them. That’s not wise, but here Solomon suggests that even a loud, angry attack can by allayed with a non-reactive calmness. Self-control and calm maturity, maintaining who you are while understanding that everyone has vulnerabilities, is not just practical; it is true power.

The last part of chapter 9 and the first part of chapter 10 in Ecclesiastes tells us that wisdom is superior, but not bullet-proof. Even if you do it all correctly, flies still sometimes pollute the ointment. This also applies to life’s role reversals that are not the way it’s supposed to be: “There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error proceeding from the ruler: folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place. I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves.”

Like the quiet, wise man in chapter 9 who saved the city by what he said, but was still despised and eventually forgotten by many, so we see that wise men and women are not always promoted to positions of authority. In fact, Solomon says that this is “an evil” suffered by people under the sun. That is to say, it is vapor. He doesn’t explain how it happens, but that it is evil. Wisdom and wise people simply do not always rule in communities after the fall. That is not to say that rulers of any stripe don’t have PR people to make them seem wise, but true wisdom knows that we should not think everyone who appears wise is indeed wise.

My experience has been that people suppose they could do better than whoever is in authority over them. They may delight in telling others about this. Solomon, though, says that a wise person is not wise according to what he or she says to and about those in power, but rather according to what he or she does not say. Jesus demonstrates amazingly what it is to be a subject under foolish rulers. At times Jesus condemned Pharisees and scribes as hypocrites who sought glory from men rather than God and neglected the weighty matters of the Torah they claimed to revere. At other times, His silence before the rulers’ anger was deafening.

Even at the crucial moment, Jesus wisely submitted in weakness and humility; He remained calm. The fools were upended. Although wisdom is vulnerable and does not guarantee a win, and although the roles of the wise and fools are sometimes reversed, like Jesus, we can respond with calmness, and joyfully accept whatever consequences come. That’s wisdom.

Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.

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