The wise man, with his flowing white beard, sits alone on top of a high mountain. The air is crisp and clear and the view is stunning, but he doesn’t see it. His eyes are closed in peaceful meditation. Nothing disturbs his solitude until the sound of footsteps announces the arrival of a wisdom-seeker. The sage remains seated, relaxed, as enigmatic (but deeply profound) answers fall slowly from his lips. As the footsteps of the now-satisfied (though slightly confused) intruder once again fade into the distance, the wise man resumes his silent reflection as if nothing had interrupted him.
Where did we get the idea that the wisest among us dwell in seclusion in hard to reach places? The origins of an idea like this would be hard to trace, because it has already spanned so many different cultures, times, and places, from the reclusive Oracle of Delphi, to the Desert Fathers in Egypt, to the Yamabushi monks in the mountains of Japan, and many others. It has even found its way into fictional spaces like the Star Wars universe—Rey seeks Luke Skywalker on Ahch-To in The Last Jedi, among huts that were not props at all but the real huts of ancient Irish monks who really secluded themselves there long, long ago in a galaxy that was not so far, far away.
Maybe it’s because the world is so messy and troubled that people throughout the ages have naturally assumed that wisdom is found in those who distance themselves from it. They avoid the mess, rise above the controversy, and speak to us from the outside, beyond our ordinary stresses and struggles. Their aloof position can easily appear to be the path of wisdom, leading us away from the problems of society and the pain that relationships so often bring.
There once was a wise man who sat on a mountain and prayed. But he didn’t stay there. After his solitary times of prayer, Jesus went straight down into the valleys full of needy and unappreciative people and taught them. He went into the cities full of sick and suffering people and served them. He traveled in the company of friends. He ate with whoever would welcome him—the rich, the poor, and the outcasts who earned him a reputation of being a “friend of sinners.”
Jesus did not wait on a mountain for us to climb up and hear his otherworldly wisdom. He came down to us. He walked with us. He talked with us—not from the outside, beyond our struggles, but from the inside, with his hands open and an invitation to cast our burdens on him. He entered our suffering, fully and completely. He gave us more than his profound words, he gave us himself.
Jesus showed us that the wisest among us are not those who isolate themselves (Proverbs 18:1) and distance themselves from the world and everyone in it. The wisest among us are those who follow the footsteps of Jesus—up the mountain to pray, certainly, but then straight back down again to serve, to love, and to give out of all that Jesus has given to us.
If you’re looking for a wise man, he’s probably in town.