Called to Be Wisdom’s Child: Rev. Judy’s Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time-8/16/15
In the readings for this Sunday we are called to be Wisdom’s child. The Greek word for Wisdom is Sophia so we are called to be Sophia’s child-just like Jesus, the Christ. This call to wisdom/Wisdom is easy to recognize in the first reading from Proverbs 9:1-6. Clearly Wisdom is a feminine face of God, it is not just being smart. In this passage from Proverbs, Wisdom has built a big house and set forth a feast. She has the guests called from a high spot overlooking the city. She particularly invites those who are simple and naïve, those who lack understanding. For through eating at her table understanding will come. She invites the guests (and all are welcome) to eat her bread and wine. She invites them to abandon their foolishness, their folly, their immaturity so that they may live and actively walk the path of understanding.
Here Wisdom/Sophia is clearly a mother telling her children not to “act a fool, or “foo”. When I grew up in the black community in Brooklyn, New York, one would hear this same command, for it was more than a plea or an invitation, to act “like you had sense”. To act with maturity and, yes, wisdom. Any of the parents, black or white or otherwise would instruct their children not to behave stupidly. It is a Mother’s prerogative to do that as most Mother’s would not let anyone else call their children stupid. And so today we hear Mother God speaking to us; Come, eat, abandon your foolishness so you may live.
The roots of early Christian traditions of Divine Wisdom are traced to their roots in Jewish Scriptures and theology as noted in the passage above and many others like it. As Israel went through exile it was women who transmitted religious traditions. In the Hebrew Scriptures there were women prophets (Nehemiah 6:14) and both sons and daughters were admonished to walk in God’s law. In Isaiah (49:15; 42:14) God is spoken of as a consoling mother. Women of faith are accorded stature as is true later in Paul’s Corinthian community. Sarah is spoken of as a foremother in faith (Is 51:2). In Wisdom 7:27 we read Divine Sophia, Divine wisdom “is one, yet can do everything: herself unchanging, she makes all things new”. In I Cor 1: 30 and 2:7 we also read of the Sophia of God. As theologian Schussler-Fiorenza* notes “Chokmah/Sophia is the personification of G*d’s saving activity in the world…” Another way to say this is that divine Wisdom is seen as the feminine Spirit of God also noted in Wisdom 7:22-23, 27. Hence God has both masculine and feminine aspects. How the genders changed so that God became only male grammatically and in thought, including within the triune God, in the Scriptural Canon is not the province of this homily, but clearly the patriarchs/fathers (including Philo) have written the rules and the matriarchs were thereby diminished, even within the theology of the One God. Jesus is then seen as Sophia’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, or as Jesus-Sophia or Sophia-Christ.
Trapped in institutional God-language we have only claimed a part of who God is. We need also to seek the feminine face of God who loves and liberates, gives life, creates, and cares with a love and tenderness beyond understanding. This is how Jesus knew God- as Sophia as well as Father, as Abwoon, Birther of Creation, Amma (Mama) as well as Abba, Daddy. We remember how he wept over Jerusalem and said that he wished he could gather her people together like a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings ( Matt 23:37). Both Matthew’s and John’s Gospels have an undertone of Sophia/Wisdom in relation to Jesus. Theologian Elisabeth Johnson (2003:87**) sees “an even more explicit way of speaking about the mystery of God is the biblical figure of Wisdom” (Sophia). In the book of Proverbs she is a street preacher, life-giver, a tree of life, agent of justice, architect of creation, and God’s daring, among other roles. As Johnson says there are options around how to see Sophia, but it is truly exciting to see God described in feminine imagery and to acknowledge our Mother/Father God who invites us to eat fully at the table of understanding. And I also think of how we started with the Good Shepherd Street Ministry for the hungry and homeless of Fort Myers, and how such street ministries everywhere offer the Bread of Life to all who pass by. ***,****
In the epistle to the Ephesians (5:15-20) we are again reminded “not to act like fools”. We are reminded to have an attitude of gratitude-to be thankful always and everywhere and to “make music in our hearts” to God. Clearly there are expectations of a follower of Christ. There are behaviors that reveal the light of Christ and Sophia Wisdom in us. And then there are behaviors that show us to be fools. Life can be hard, especially for the poor and other vulnerable and outcast groups of people. It can be hard for any of us. And the motherly advice to find something to be thankful for in everything could easily fall on deaf ears. Yet, in church when our people speak of their experiences of God one can hear several men and women say a variation of “I thank God that I am not homeless anymore-but I learned what I needed to know from that horrible experience. I learned, for example, to depend on God and to deepen my belief. And I learned to be there for the next one. Even as I have been helped, I will help others”. Another woman said, “I would never have asked to have cancer. I was totally terrified and wiped out by it at first. But now, I thank God for I know God and Life and my loved ones, and everyone in a new way because of it.” Sophia God is perhaps most of all God-in- relation. And in relationships an attitude of gratitude toward each other makes up for a host of problems. Let us truly give thanks everywhere and always-that is what is wise and good to do.
And finally, the Gospel for the day (John 6: 48-58) continues the theme of Jesus, the Bread of Life. The Greek word used here for “eat” my flesh is “gnaw on it”. And we know that the Aramaic(language of Jesus) understanding is “eat my teachings, my essence”. Don’t stand on manners and ceremonies, pitch right in and take my life, my teachings, my word and tear them apart, ingest them, digest them, and live them! Then you will live. And this table set before us is like the table set in Proverbs- go shout it in the streets: all are welcome. The elite may come but do not dominate at this table where it is right to tear apart the food and eat it with gusto. Eat and have life, our Mother/Father God has set this table. This is Sophia’s table. This is Jesus’, the Christ’s table. But when you take in the Bread of Life, then become it for others. Live for love, equality and justice, live for others so that they too may live. Don’t play at it and “act a fool”.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP-East
Co-Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community Of Fort Myers, Florida
Some Source Material on Wisdom Sophia
*Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet (Continuum: 1994).
** Johnson, Elizabeth. She Who Is: the Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. (Crossroads: 1992/2003).
*** Lee, Judith A. B. Come by Here: Church with the Poor. (Publishamerica, now AmericStarBooks.pub: 2010).
****Little-Wyman, Deborah. “Come and See: A theology of the poor” In CL Howard, Ed. The Souls of Poor Folk: pp.21-28) Latham, Md. University Press of America, Inc.