Wisdom: The Gift of the World for the Church

By Uli Chi

April 25, 2024

Scripture — Matthew 25:38-39 (NRSV)

And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?


One surprising insight from biblical wisdom is that we need to be open to learning from those who are outside of the biblical tradition. That is the gift of the world for the church.


Photo of When I Was Sick by Timothy Schmalz (C) 2024 Uli Chi

HIV/AIDS was the dreaded disease of my generation. AIDS was first diagnosed in 1981. By 1994, it was the leading cause of death for all Americans between the ages of 22 and 44. Thankfully, today, it is a treatable disease and no longer a death sentence. But early on, even the process of transmission was poorly understood. That led to widespread fear about treating those who were so diagnosed. As a result, many healthcare institutions were reluctant to care for and treat those who contracted the disease. One of the notable exceptions was Virginia Mason in Seattle. In a remarkable act of corporate courage, Virginia Mason helped found and operate the Bailey-Boushay House, which has served HIV/AIDS patients since 1992.

After the Franciscan Health System and Virginia Mason merged in 2021, an early board presentation concerned the Bailey-Boushay House. After a moving retelling of its history, one of the Sisters of St. Francis commented on how remarkable that work had been, and how deeply congruent it was with the Franciscan mission and values. Now, you need to know that, unlike the Franciscan Health System, Virginia Mason did not have a religious history. Quite the contrary. Like much of the Seattle area, its culture was secular.

As in Jesus’ story today, I suspect many who were treating HIV-positive patients at Bailey-Boushay House would not have thought they were taking care of Jesus in the process. They might very well ask the question raised in our text: “When was it that we saw you sick?” And yet, Jesus so identifies with those on the margins of society – the lepers of the first century and the HIV/AIDS sufferers of the twentieth – that when we care for them, we unknowingly care for him.

That’s quite a surprise.

Even more surprising, the Bailey-Boushay story is an example of how a secular community can be better at this than many who claim to follow Jesus. In that sense, it is an example (and not a unique one) of where biblical wisdom can be found in the world rather than in the church.

As I’ve reflected on elsewhere:

Sometimes, deeply Christian insights and practices reside in our self-professed secular settings. And, sadly, sometimes profoundly unchristian insights and practices are ingrained in self-professed Christian communities. Our challenge is to wrestle with this complex situation, to learn to discern where things are not always what they seem (The 2023 Bruce Kennedy Ethical Leadership Lecture: Wisdom and Leadership).

So what are we to make of all this?

One surprising insight from biblical wisdom is that we need to be open to learning from those who are outside of the biblical tradition. That is the gift of the world for the church.

In our generation, the world has challenged the church to be faithful in caring for the planet, advocating racial justice, and promoting gender equality. The church has rarely seen those challenges as gifts. We easily find reasons to “shoot the messenger” rather than listen to the message. But wisdom can be found in unexpected places and people. Unfortunately, folly can also be found in those who should know better.

I have learned a great deal of wisdom from my secular family, friends, and business colleagues. As God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on believers and unbelievers alike, so God’s wisdom is available to all who are willing to hear and practice it. Like the Bailey-Boushay House story, the church needs to listen and learn from the world when the church has been slow to respond to the needs of the wounded and suffering.

In yesterday’s reflection, I ended by referencing Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan. In Jesus’ day, Samaritans were arguably the theological and political enemies of the Jews. So it is astonishing that Jesus pointedly used someone from Samaria to demonstrate what it meant to be a faithful Jew. One conclusion from the parable is that the Samaritan was the only character in the story who acted wisely. The other two, a Jewish priest and a Levite, ignored the plight of the wounded man. They who should have known better behaved badly. Even the person who provoked Jesus’ story, when asked who was a neighbor to the wounded man, said it was the Samaritan. And Jesus responded, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37 NRSVUE).

To be wise requires the essential virtue of humility. And that means being willing to learn wisdom wherever it is found, even when it is found in our theological and political enemies. Humility is as difficult for those of us who follow Jesus as for anyone else. Our inability to recognize and receive genuine wisdom, particularly with regard to the treatment of the vulnerable and marginalized, betrays a lack of humility on our part. And that has serious consequences. As both the Apostle James and Peter emphasized to the early church: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5 NRSVUE).

May we be humble enough to receive the wisdom that is the gift of the world for the church today.


Where have you seen God’s wisdom at work in a secular setting?


For an example from your reflection above, find a way to affirm and express gratitude to those who are engaged in that work.


God our Creator,

We are grateful for your grace and generosity in providing wisdom to all who ask. You are far more willing to give than we are to receive.

Help us see your wisdom at work in the world. Help us have the humility to recognize your good work in those who do not acknowledge you. And when that wisdom challenges us, help us be humble enough to learn anyway.

We ask so that we might more faithfully reflect your image and honor your name.


Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Good Samaritan at Work—Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself (Luke 10:25-37).

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Uli Chi

Board Member, Senior Fellow, Affiliate Professor

Dr. Uli Chi’s career is a testament to his unique approach to leadership. He has navigated the realms of for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations, the theological academy, and the local church, gleaning a wealth of wisdom from each. As an award-winning technological entrepreneur, h...

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Comments (1)

  1. Nigel Grant

    April 26, 2024

    5:49 pm

    This is really interesting commentary. I want to agree – after all, the doctrine of Imago Dei tells us that all humankind reflect something of God’s nature. Nevertheless, I am stuck on the idea that “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”. Is it perhaps love, rather than wisdom, that we see in the work of Virginia Mason and in the example of the good Samaritan? Can we really learn godly wisdom from those who do not fear the Lord? Practical wisdom (phronesis) maybe, but godly wisdom?

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