THE PROVERBS EXPLAINED
A Blueprint for Christian Living
EWTN Publishing Co., distributed by Sophia Institute Press, 2017
By Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ
143 pages, $14.95 (paperback)
“Confucius says” usually begins a fortune-cookie message or a proverb. That shouldn’t surprise us, because proverbs are found in many lands and cultures. The Old Testament even has a whole book of them.
The Book of Proverbs belongs to that genre of the Old Testament called “wisdom literature.” Wisdom was a movement in the ancient Near East whose purpose was to instruct people how to live well, succeed, “make it” in life, and gain fortune.
That Israel was part of that larger wisdom movement is not unique; what is unique is how it shaped the wisdom tradition. For Israel, success in life and good fortune is ultimately about being in right relation with God. Wisdom is not about book learning, but knowing how to live, which includes living well with God. The fool is not the illiterate, but the one who says: “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1) and then lives his life that way.
Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa helps readers both to understand what the Book of Proverbs says and to apply it to successful Catholic living today in The Proverbs Explained. He explains select proverbs in their biblical context and then draws conclusions for living as God wants us to now.
Consider these observations about nagging:
“Why do the writers of Proverbs compare constant nagging to ‘dripping on a rainy day?’ Picture an ancient Israelite house, which had a roof made of flimsy boards topped with packed soil and straw. When it rained, the water would eventually go through the straw, pick up some mud and dirt, and drip through the cracks between the boards of the ceiling. You can just imagine how annoying (and messy) that would be. This constant, noisy, muddy drip is what unresolved quarreling is like. The only way for an ancient Israelite to keep it under control was to ensure that the home was constantly maintained. By analogy, the way a husband and wife can avoid that continuous nagging is to keep their relationship in constant repair. If a couple is not ready when the problems and challenges pour like cats and dogs, that annoying drip-drip-drip will drive them mad until they end up fighting like cats and dogs.”
Or these thoughts about taking responsibility and making one’s way in the world:
“A key part of overcoming lazy behavior is to have a vision of one’s future. What do I want for my life?”
Father Pacwa groups a selection of proverbs around three big categories: family, justice and virtue. Within those categories, he draws practical advice for issues like the husband/wife and parent/child relationships; wisdom and chastity; balancing tenderness with toughness in discipline; right living and justice in society, business and earning a living; and steering between anger and timidity, overcoming pride, guarding one’s mouth and the work ethic.
Biblical wisdom is in some ways amazingly pedestrian: How do I do well in life? God wants us to know, love and serve him here and be happy hereafter. We can do well here, too, if we do good. Father Pacwa offers practical biblical advice for how to do so.
John M. Grondelski writes from Falls Church, Virginia.