The word of the day is “but.” Both wickedness and righteousness earn a just reward that is suited to them. In our reading of Proverbs 10:31-11:12, we learn this principle of God’s justice. The wise sage of Proverbs writes, “The righteousness of the upright saves them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their own schemes (OAB vs. 6). Today we exam the contrast between the consequences of following the path of wisdom and straying from it in the way of wickedness.
The Treachery of Wickedness
In today’s reading, we find that wickedness is full of schemes, plots, and treachery. By these measures, evil strives to get ahead in this world. But the sage warns that these designs are useless for two reasons.
First, the prospects for evil are bleak. The long-term forecast for wickedness is unchanging. Those who are crafty will die, and their hopes will perish with them (OAB vs.7). They can make a thousand business plans, but in the end, they will gain nothing.
Setting Traps That Catch Themselves
Second, the schemes of the wicked are traps that catch those who devise them. The wicked set up snares to entrap others. But the sage says, “The treacherous are taken captive by their schemes” (OAB vs. 6). Those who conspire against others become the victims of conspiracy. Power struggles beget power struggles. Coups overtake other coups, and business takeovers result in other takeovers. If you lay a trap for an adversary, you can be caught in a similar ambush.
Thus, the sage writes, “The righteous are delivered from trouble but the wicked get into it instead” (OAB vs. 8). Think of the world of the wicked who stay up late at night to contrive better game plans for destroying their competition. It is a world of deceit, treachery, cheating, and betrayal where no one can be trusted. If your scales are tilted, how do you know that others are also cheating you?
Righteousness Saves from Trouble
In contrast, the sage says that righteousness guides the upright along smooth paths (OAB vs. 5). The godliness of the wise saves them from a multitude of troubles (OAB vs. 8). They are straightforward in all their dealings. Hence, they need have no fear of getting caught up in underhanded schemes. They break no law and so do not get into legal suits. And their neighbor has no reason to take vengeance upon them since they do no wrong to anyone. Integrity is their standard for every action. And truth makes their dealings with others uncomplicated.
The world of the righteous, therefore, is the opposite of the domain of the wicked. Those who lead principled lives renounce all clever stratagems and live in simplicity and peace. Everyone trusts their honesty and are confident that their scales are correct. People are glad when things go well with them, for they are respected for caring for others (OSB vs. 10).
The Wise in Godliness Flourish
Sinfulness deadens the souls of the wicked. But those who are wise in godliness flourish in life, honor, and prosperity (NKJV 21:21). Indeed, the sage writes, “When the ways of people please the Lord, he causes even their enemies to make peace with them” (OAB Proverbs 16:7). Without the troubles of wickedness, the righteous can expect to live a long life (OAB 11:8). The sage writes that if we follow his directives, his commands will grant “length of days, and years of life, and abundant welfare” (OAB Proverbs 3:2).
Our reading presents a stark contrast between the path of righteousness and the ways of wickedness. Is it, perhaps, too well-defined? Is there no middle ground, a little bit of evil mixed in with the good, a portion of sin blended with a measure of righteousness? St. Paul answers this question with a question: “For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness” (NKJV 2 Corinthians 6:14)? No, our description of the two ways of life shows that they are irreconcilable opposites. They are two paths, and if we think we can walk down both at once, we deceive ourselves. Soon a situation or dilemma will force us to make a choice between one way or the other.
With this in mind, we can thank God that this Lenten season offers the opportunity for us to turn around in our path and to take the way of true godliness. This is the way of the Cross of Christ, and by this way, the Lord became for us the wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (NKJV: 1 Corinthians 1:30). When we take up our cross and follow the Lord, then we can be sure we are on the path that the sage of Proverbs advised.