Based on Proverbs 8
Have you ever searched the original language and meaning of what your name means?
For example, the name Kyle is Gaelic in origin, and it means “fair and handsome.” My parents must have known what known what they were doing when they named me 31 years ago.
Ashley’s name means, “One who lives near the ash forest”, so obviously I win that one.
Do any of you know the meaning of the name “Sophia”?
You probably don’t, because why would you, so I’ll help you out here.
Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom. Wisdom in Hebrew is the word Hochma, but we’ll stick with the Greek this morning.
Sophia means wisdom.
And did you notice something about the text this morning? It kept referring to Wisdom as a she. A person. A woman. The ancient Israelites personified wisdom as a woman. This is where we get the name Sophia from.
Wisdom is a woman. This is going to go fun places, so stay with me here.
In verse 2-3, we read that Lady Wisdom calls out in the public square.
At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud:
“To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all humankind. You who are simple, gain prudence; You who are foolish, set your heart on it. Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right.”
Lady wisdom, Sophia, is in the middle of the city, in the public, calling people to listen to her.
Why is this important?
Because the previous chapters give a warning against the adulterous woman, which is also “folly”, or “foolishness” personified. The adulterous woman is in the middle of the city, in the public, calling people to listen to her.
And the writer of Proverbs has this to say the people who listen to her:
With persuasive words she led him astray: she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose, til an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it would cost him his life…
Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. Many are the victims she has brought down: her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.
So don’t follow that woman! Follow this woman instead!
Quick aside. Both foolishness and wisdom are personified as women here, because really, most of this ancient literature was written by men, for men, in a patriarchal sexist society. We all know that men can be wise and men can be foolish, and men can cause people to lead astray as well. Especially Derek Shepherd from Grey’s Anatomy (McDreamy!).
And also, I think that while the adulteress is framed as a sexual temptation, I think it’s a heck of a lot more than that. I think it’s a metaphor for foolishness, for folly, for being unwise. But what’s one way to get a young man’s attention?
And, finally, this text was written in a different era and culture than ours, so we’ll try working at this sexist text without being too sexist.
Okay, aside over.
So Lady Wisdom wasn’t just there to offer a different voice to the Lady Seducer over there. Oh no. According to the ancient Israelites, she was much, much, more than simply that.
Sophia, Lady Wisdom, was the first of God’s creation. She was there when God made the heavens and the Earth.
When God said “Let us make humankind in our image… male and female he created them”, Lady Wisdom was one of those characters that was there. She was constantly at God’s side, and delighting in all that God made.
But it doesn’t just stop there. No no no no. The ancient Israelites even kicked it up a notch. They were audacious enough to borrow language from other cultures and set her up as a semi-deity, as permeating all creation, as nothing short of being God’s presence “up close”. Ancient poems from the apocrypha write that Sophia creates the world, pervades all that is, and is the one in whom God and humans meet (Tom Yoder Neufeld in Studying Jesus – Learning Christ).
According to Old Testament wisdom literature, if you want to see what God looks like, all you need to do is look at Sophia, Lady Wisdom. God, up close, looks like a woman named wisdom.
But it just keeps getting more mind blowing, and hopefully in ways that are a little bit applicable to our daily lives.
So, this Old Testament wisdom literature was written about 900 years BCE. And then, about 900 years later, this guy named Jesus came and did stuff… said some stuff… and rose from the dead. And the early church believed that this guy Jesus was kind of big deal, kind of important…
So as they were writing letters to each other, and writing songs, and writing down the stories of Jesus, they were looking for ways to connect this Jesus guy to their Jewish story. They believed that Jesus was not only an important part of the Jewish story, but the climax of it, the culmination of it, the pinnacle of it, and so they were looking for language and metaphors and similes and poems to express that.
And as they did this, they remembered a woman named Sophia from the wisdom literature.
And they not only borrowed the language used to describe wisdom to describe Jesus, but they also named Jesus as THE wisdom of God.
In John chapter 1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came to being through him.
This is even a bigger deal when smart biblical scholars tell us that the Greek words for wisdom and word were used interchangeably in the Old Testament. So we can say “In the beginning was wisdom”.
And then the wisdom became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Or we can read Colossians 1 as well.
The writer of Colossians 1 re-wrote a poem about wisdom to be a poem about Jesus. He calls both wisdom and Jesus the place where “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Tom Yoder Neufeld again).
The writer of Colossians 1 fused the notion of wisdom as co-creator of the world with the wisdom of the cross, the wisdom through with which the world is being reconciled.
Jesus is described as wisdom.
This is huge for two reasons:
1) The New Testament writers used the language to describe a woman, Lady Wisdom, to describe Jesus.
I love this. If we understand God to be beyond gender, some of us get hung up on Jesus being a male. So, I think comparing Jesus to Lady Wisdom addresses some of that. But also, it fits well with what Richard Rohr says.
“Like many other people I’ve continually wondered why Jesus came to us as a man and why he chose twelve men… I think that if Jesus had come as a woman, and had this woman been forgiving and compassionate, and had she taught non-violence, we wouldn’t have experienced that as a revelation. ‘Oh well, typical woman,’ we would have said.
But the fact that a man in a patriarchal society took on these qualities that we call ‘feminine’ was a breakthrough in revelation. So he spent three years teaching twelve men how to do things differently – and they almost never caught on. And for two thousand years the men in the church have never caught on. Because we wanted a God of domination.” (In Simplicity).
I just love that. Jesus and Lady Wisdom are in cahoots because men are stubborn and have a tendency to see themselves as a hammer and everything as a nail, and power and fear and violence and domination are not part of the Kingdom of God.
2) Second reason why Jesus described as wisdom is a big deal.
So if you want to see what God looks like, look at Jesus.
If you want to see what God is like, look at Jesus.
Jesus is the center of what God is doing in the world.
This is actually one of the defining beliefs in Anabaptism. Palmer Becker writes that there are three core values to Anabaptism. One, that Jesus is the center of our faith. Two, that community is the center of our lives. And three, that peace and reconciliation is the center of our work. These three things permeate everything we believe and do.
And, when we place Jesus in in the center of our faith, we join the company of the New Testament writers who used Old Testament language of wisdom to describe Jesus.
By making the connection between Jesus and wisdom, we see that Jesus, like wisdom, is the lens through which we see faith.
The center of Christianity isn’t the Bible. It’s Jesus. We look through the Bible to see Jesus (Thanks Pete Enns again). The Bible is like a treasure map, and the treasure is Jesus.
I came across something great by Brian Zahnd about God being revealed to us through Jesus, and all the ways that helps us see the character of God.
“Once we understand that Jesus is image of God, the exact imprint of God’s nature, and the only perfect theology, we can answer some important questions about God that in the past we humans have often gotten wrong.
Does God send the storm? No. He calms the storm.
Does God cause famines? No. He feed the hungry.
Does God inflict sickness? No. He heals the sick.
Does God shun sinners? No. He welcomes them.
Does God condemn the guilty? No. He saves them.
Does God blame the afflicted? No. He shows them mercy.
Does God resent human pleasure? No. He turns water into wine.
Does God take our side in our hostilities? No. He humanizes the other side.
Does God kill his enemies? No. He forgives them.
Does God return with revenge on his mind? No. He comes with words of peace.”
I think that knowing that God is revealed in Jesus, is wisdom. I think that feeding people and welcoming people and showing mercy and forgiving enemies and bringing peace, is wisdom. I think that living self-sacrificial lives for the benefit of others, is wisdom. I think that living our lives as a gift, and returning that which have been given, is wisdom.
Oh, Sophia, you lady wisdom you. May we continue to find you, and find life.