Proper 17 • Proverbs 25:2–10 • August 29, 2010
by Travis J. Scholl
“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings to search things out” (v. 2). The opening verse of today’s reading from Proverbs bears the haunt of the deus absconditus, and the paradox of the hidden God and the human investigator.
Yet, even the human mind is unsearchable (v. 3), or at least unfathomable. This wisdom even neuroscience bears out (see, for instance, the fascinating presentation by Dr. Mario Beauregard from Concordia’s 2009 Theological Symposium on iTunes U, itunes.csl.edu). Within the imago Dei, the paradox turns upon itself: he who would search out the unsearchable is himself unsearchable.
When contemplating the deus absconditus, our thoughts often turn to Luther, at which point it is perhaps in our best interest to hear a wise word from Dr. Robert Kolb: “[I]t must be noted that the revealed God hides himself in order to show himself to his human creatures. Luther observed that God is to be found precisely where theologians of glory are horrified to find him: as a kid in a crib, as a criminal on a cross, as a corpse in a crypt. God reveals himself by hiding himself right in the middle of human existence as it has been bent out of shape by the human fall. Thus, Luther’s theology of the cross is a departure from the fuzziness of human attempts to focus on God apart from God’s pointing out where he is to be found and who he really is.”1
This is, of course, much of the point of the wisdom literature: God is to be found where we aren’t looking. “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here’, than to be put lower in the presence of a noble” (v. 6–7). It is exactly these wise words that Jesus has in mind when he’s eating a meal with the Pharisees in today’s gospel (Lk 14:1–14). Jesus will turn the paradox even further: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Lk 14:11). Then he honors his host by exhorting those who would throw a party to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (14:13). More paradox.
Of course, if we have learned anything about the deus absconditus and the theology of the cross, if we have invited the poor, we have invited God to the party. For God is hidden in the least of these, just as God’s wisdom is hidden in foolishness. It also means that we’re invited to the party, because it means we can never be too low to be left out of God’s banquet or too low to be where God hasn’t already been.
I find it incredibly interesting to track the wisdom themes percolating throughout all the readings in today’s lectionary. The connection between Proverbs and the speak- ing of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is one. The powerful paranesis of Hebrews 13:1–17 is another: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers …” (13:2). The interconnec- tions for preaching and teaching abound.
“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings to search things out.” To search such things out in the Scriptures is the preacher’s glory as well.
1 Robert Kolb, “Luther on the Theology of the Cross,” Lutheran Quarterly 16:4 (Winter 2002), 449–450.