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Stories of honey and fools

Stories of honey and fools

Read: Proverbs 24:13, 26:16 and then Proverbs 26:4,5

Proverbs may safely be labelled the ‘Bible book of prudence’.  Starting from the first chapter, we read that this collection of proverbs is intended to give “wisdom and instruction,” inform “prudent behaviour” and help the reader in “doing what is right and just.”

Proverbs however is not simply a list of things that we need to to all the time in every circumstance. Rather, it points to the kind of people we should be and this often requires different things in different circumstances.

Here are two examples.

Honey.  In Proverbs 24:13 we find that we should ‘eat honey, because it is good’.  That might lead us to establish this as a standard behaviour of what it means to be a good person.  Every time we find some honey, we should eat it.   But Proverbs 26:16 offers a counterpoint, and tells us that, if we find honey, we should ‘eat just enough, and not too much or we will vomit’. So our relationship with honey is not straightforward and mindless.  We cannot simply just eat.  There needs to be prudence at work, to help us understand what ‘too much’ means. 

In this case, prudence is being applied to regulate the virtues of love of what is good and moderation/temperance.

Fools.  Proverbs 26:4 is a wonderful word of wisdom on the kind of character we should have when we come into contact with fools.  ‘Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him’. Wonderful!  So when fools talk to us, we exercise the virtue of restraint and choose to remain silent, or refuse to align our conversation.  In ignoring fools in this way, we avoid being foolish ourselves. 

Can we always do  this in a straightforward and mindless way?

No.  Read the next verse: ‘Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes’ (Proverbs 26:5). But wait a moment, this is saying the exact opposite now.  When a fool talks to us, we are not to remain silent, but to reply along the lines of his/her conversation.  Because when we do this, we help the fool see how foolish he/she actually is.

How do we know which behaviour to follow?  It will be prudence that guides us in the specific instance.  At times, we will exercise the virtue of self-control and remain silent. Other times, we will exercise the virtue of irony and speak out.  We cannot do both at the same time.  So we need prudence.

A prayer: Lord help me to accept that the complexities of life may require me to be and act differently.  Keep me from being simple-minded and allow me to joyfully engage with the challenges of prudence.  Thank you for the guiding voice of your Spirit in my life, and may I be receptive and responsive to the ongoing call of wisdom.




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