Getting Mauled

For Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Proverbs 17:12

Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs
rather than a fool in his folly.

It came out of nowhere. Two hikers, conversing quietly as they made their way along the trail, until one spied a bear cub. Moments later they found themselves painfully mauled, lying 65 feet down a stony, brush covered embankment. After investigation Glacier National Park officials announced the probable cause of the August 2005 attack: a defensive action by a female grizzly with two cubs. Clearly, one doesn't want to mess with a mother bear who feels her cubs are threatened.

As dangerous as such a bear may be, today's proverb tells us that a "fool in his folly" is more dangerous still. There are at least two dimensions to the text.

First, we have a comparison with a she-bear telling us something of the nature of folly. Bears are, for the most part, relatively harmless and more likely to flee from humans than attack. But under the right circumstances, the mother bear can burst into a blind and passionate rage. So too with the fool.

How easily we can be caught up into the heat of folly - the lure of pleasure, craving for approval, lust for power or control, longing for the perfect body, the excitement of anger, insisting on being right, an eagerness to impress, and so on. Each of these embodies an impulse that is good in itself, but if left unchecked by wisdom, twists into a passion that can spiral away blindly, damaging ourselves and those around us.

Second, therefore, we have a warning. As robbing a she-bear of her cubs brings consequences, likewise meeting the fool in the midst of folly has its own negative effects. The proverb, therefore, advises that sometimes we should steer clear of the fool, lest we end up a casualty of a foolish frenzy.

But the proverb may also suggest a more difficult way, to count the cost and face foolishness square-on. Our Lord himself took this path with those who opposed him and that path, we recall, led to the cross. While we are called to take up our cross daily, we are not always called to challenge every instance of foolishness.

May God grant us the wisdom to discern how he calls us to respond.