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Jesus as a follower of wisdom

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The major difficulty I have with writing about wisdom is that few people are very familiar with the concept. We just have not talked about it very much, so little so that most of us don’t even distinguish the ordinary language meaning of the term, wisdom, and the use of wisdom as the name of the Godhead Jesus often seems to have been following. This failure is as drastic as mistaking a human character trait, as in, she is a wise person, for the name of one of the gods who was present, as ancient tribal stories would have it, at the birth of creation. To say that Jesus was a follower of the wisdom tradition says much more, explains his message much more, than saying that he thought we all must be wise in our decisions. It is to limit our understanding of the Gospel, and our appreciation of what we must do to bring about the New Kingdom.

First let me give an oversimplified definition what Wisdom is: Art Dewey, editor of The Fourth R, the always relevant quarterly of the Westar foundation, in discussing Matthew’s presentation of the difficult parable of the judgment of the sheep and the goats, describes says that one group , the sheep, was rewarded with the empire because they were prepared with understanding of the “foundation of the World.” The other, the goats, by not being so funded got everlasting punishment. The wise understood that their actions had to ,simply, follow God’s blueprint, which requires us to found our lives on the ecology involved in the relationships of love. If we don’t, we’re screwed.

Jesus, who was likely illiterate like almost all from his social class, rarely quoted from the writings that were considered the Hebrew canon, that were not writings belonging to the wisdom literature tradition. Most historians of biblical culture have, for years, understood that the ordinary people of the time, the labor/peasants who were very close to subsistence loved the Wisdom books: Job, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, many Psalms, and the prophetic literature that made use of this ancient tradition.

Here it helps to realize that very early the explanations of Jesus divided into two parts, that which accented the acts and message of Jesus, as found in his parables and sermons, such as the sermon on the mount, and the “Divine” acts attributed to him which were regarded as Jesus fulfilling the otherworldly plan of redemption by his fulfilling the prophesies of birth, miracle working, crucifixion, resurrection, and the restoration of God’s kingdom. Briefly, we have the historical Jesus, the man preaching through parabolic stories the mysteries of good and godly human and natural relations, and the Divine Christ who laid the groundwork for our getting to heaven. (See “God in the Midst of Change: Wisdom for Confusing Times” by Diarmuid O’Murchu and “Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus” by Robin R. Meyers.) Needless to say, the human Jesus and his message of how we are to relate to each other, has been the province mainly, but not solely, of the reformers and mystics, while the Christ Jesus has been largely the province of the temple people, those who formulate and secure doctrinal purity.

By following wisdom, Jesus falls into the middle eastern tradition of the stoic and cynic philosophers. It is doubtful that he ever read any of their writings, but many of his statements seem to catch the iconoclastic, ironic, “get real” tone of the sayings of the cynics. The cynic philosophers were to be mendicants who carried little property, living hand to mouth, beholding to no one, who accented good works and teachings. Certainly, he is close to the cynic tradition when he compares the Kingdom of God to bread flour that has been corrupted by the decaying process of leaven, of the turnaround of plot when the host of the wedding party invites people off the street (How fragrant!) only to condemn one, casting him out, because he wasn’t wearing the right clothes. My God! Could God be impure and arbitrary? Is that life?

I firmly believe that Jesus saw his path as one designed to get us thinking and discussing  how we are to be with each other, not one the showed us what we must do to be absolved of some sin so we could be assured of heaven.

Join SpokaneFAVS for a conversation on ‘Wisdom’ at its next Coffee Talk, at 10 a.m., Aug. 2 at Indaba Coffee. Schmidt is a panelist.

Thomas Schmidt

About Thomas Schmidt

Thomas Schmidt is a retired psychotherapist and chemical dependency counselor who belongs to the Sufi Ruhiniat International order of Sufi’s and is a drummer in the Spokane Sufi group and an elder at the Country Homes Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church. He is a member of the Westar Institute (The Jesus Seminar people). He studied for the ministry in the late 1950’s at Texas Christian Church and twice married Janet Fowler, a member of a long tern TCU family and a Disciple minister. He was active in the Civil Rights Movement, studying philosophy at Columbia University and psychology in the University of North Carolina university system. He has taught philosophy and psychology, and was professionally active in Florida, North Carolina, and, for 25 years in Spokane. He has studied and practiced Siddha Yoga, Zen Buddhism and, since the mid 1970’s, Sufism and the Dances of Universal Peace. He has three sons and three grandchildren. With the death of his wife, Janet, he is continuing their concentration on human rights, ecology, and ecumenical and interfaith reconciliation.

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  1. Well done, Thomas Schmidt!
    Addressing “the wisdom Jesus” is quite difficult to do, especially in our culture where so few have learned to appreciate their own experience of “the Divine” in a way that reaches well outside of concrete, directive terms.

    Thanks for posting this — a peek under the curtain that really isn’t “there”!


    Hi Tom,

    Let’s see. You are suggesting it beneficial to divide the general notion of “wisdom” into ‘Wisdom’ with a capital ‘W’ (implying a TRADITION of stoic and cynic philosophers), and ‘wisdom’ with lower case ‘w’ (implying generalist, vague personality traits)? Hm?

    Your statement, “I firmly believe that Jesus saw his path as one designed to get us thinking and discussing how we are to be with each other, not one that showed us what we must do to be absolved of some sin so we could be assured of heaven.” lacks focus.

    From both wise philosopher and wise historian points of view, meanings and contexts of ideas like ‘absolution of sin’ and ‘heaven’ are INTEGRAL to discussions of coexistence.

    Why divide Jesus in two? To me, Jesus’ teachings and miracles are one. To rip apart the ‘historical’ Jesus from the passionate traditions of faith in Jesus is not wise in my book.

  3. Riff, I am not dividing Jesus into two. That was done long ago, with the first few believers. He was seen by many as a m, an itinerant teacher . Soon, and thanks mainly to Paul, who has few references to Jesus as a ordinary man, he was describes as the Messiah, a divine personage. John picked up on that and had him as some mystical entity preexisting creation. The orthodox loved that because it allowed them to monopolize on what was “The Truth” about Jesus. Very controlling.
    And absolution from sin and heaven are ideas, and as ideas, belong to any discussion of history of believers, especially Christian, but they are vacuous concepts. They have no concrete reference, nothing anyone can point to ostensively other than its residue as an idea. The ring around my coffee cup does not constitute a cup of coffee. And Wisdom was regarded as a female deity long before I was around. Check your history of religions. It was part of Jewish paganism long before JHWH started throwing his weight around. We modern day Christians, especially protestants, just haven’t made much use of her. Some scholars suggest she is the primal Holy Spirit, the female member of the Trinity. She carried a very sharp sword and had pet snakes. The male dominated hierarchy didn’t like her. They even ran her pets out of her favorite haunt, Ireland.


    Your post does two things.

    One, it offers reference for a possible historical context of the idea of wisdom.

    (No problem there.)

    Two, it is offers a narrow framework of possible merits to foundations for the personage of Jesus Christ.

    If you are simply sharing of your personal journey investigating a man named, Jesus, no problem.

    If you are proclaiming the faith of millions of Christians to be erroneous, there’s a problem.

    Given your response to my comment, I am now of the impression you are couching your own beliefs.

    To differentiate a “discussion of history of believers” from a discussion of wisdom causes me to pause.

    Perhaps you are indirectly pointing to what you have decided to be sound (‘wise’) principles upon which to base beliefs?

    If this is true, might it not help to openly steer the conversation in this direction rather than deflect to who Jesus is, isn’t, was, or wasn’t?

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