Answering that musical question is the key to wisdom. We must all recognize that foolishness is our original sin. We’re born into this legacy from Adam & Eve and we spend the rest of our lives trying to find our way out of it.
There are many kinds of fools: stupid, crazy, pitiful, drunken—all the usual adjectives we commonly use to modify the noun “fool.” The model of a “Drunken fool” has been with us since biblical times, as we see in this Sunday’s readings—most notably in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5:15-20), where he warns them away from turning into one of these.
“Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise… Do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord. And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”
Thank God his spirit has guided many drunken fools to the wisdom that can be found in the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is through these steps that drunken and many other kinds of fools can find wisdom—first by confronting the fact of one’s foolishness and then asking forgiveness of God and anyone hurt by it. Number 11 of the 12 steps is key to the spirit of Paul’s letter:
Seek through prayer and meditations to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Therein lies wisdom—the greatest friend God can give us, whose dwelling we are directed to in our first reading (Prv 9:1-6):
“Let whoever is simple turn in here; to the one who lacks understanding, she says, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”
This is wine needed by all kinds of fools, drunken ones included, but selfish ones especially because they bar their own entry into wisdom’s dwelling by refusing to leave the confines of their own hearts. Number eight of the 12-step program offers advice for that kind of fool too:
Make a list of all persons you have harmed, and be willing to make amends to them all.
There is no fool like one who only sees the foolishness of others—granting themselves the license to say hurtful things as a result of that perceived foolishness and taking pride in their self-righteousness. Jesus runs into such fools in our gospel reading. These are the same ones we’ve been reading about for the past few Sundays—the ones who witnessed his miracle with the loaves and fish and heard his words of wisdom in-person; and yet they challenge him when they hear Jesus say:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
These fools quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus tells them:
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”
There are also wise fools in the scriptures, and the prophet Jeremiah identifies with that title (jer 20:7-9), admitting that it was God who made a fool of him.
“You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. … I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart.”
Humanity’s greatest problems come from being a fool and not knowing it. These are the ones who never take the necessary steps toward wisdom’s shelter. For God’s fools, like Jeremiah, that is a perpetual destination. What we are called to do during every step of that journey is gain wisdom from God’s foolishness.