Posts Tagged ‘Sophia’

JOHN 6:51-58

51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”

The Christian sacrament of Eucharist or communion has its origins in the practice of Jesus, of hosting a simple meal of bread and wine for any and all who accepted his invitation. It is very likely that Jesus took his inspiration from the ancient traditions regarding Wisdom, personified as a woman (Sophia) who spread her table of bread and wine for the earnest seeker of truth (see Proverbs 9:1-6).

Importantly, Wisdom is yet another name for the will of God at work in the creation and governance of the universe. On the social level, her bounty was enjoyed in a life of moral integrity, temperance, and compassion for others. The disciple of Wisdom was promised fulfillment in this life and an honored memory in the generations to come.

The opposite of wisdom in the Bible is foolishness, following the lure of countless temptations and indulging the lower impulses. A fool lacks moral vision and is forever baffled or embittered over life’s apparent meaninglessness. As he moves across the surface from one attraction to the next, his spirit gradually expires.

To eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus sounds grotesque and repulsive to us, but when we see the symbolism – blood=wine=joy; flesh=bread=sustenance – Jesus as Wisdom (his principal identity in the Fourth Gospel) is inviting us to make him and his way our life’s devotional purpose.

JOHN 14:1-14

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

If we didn’t know the background tradition of John’s Gospel, we would think that Jesus is calling attention to himself as the historical-specific savior figure who is the world’s only way to God. Isn’t that exactly what’s going on in this text?

Actually, this Gospel is rooted in a deeper stream known as the Wisdom tradition, which surfaces also in the New Testament letter of Colossians and elsewhere, but reaches back into the so-called intertestamental writings of Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, and still farther back into the First Testament books of Ecclesiastes, Job, Proverbs and the Psalms. On the larger world stage, the Wisdom tradition moved across the cultures of Israel, Greece, Egypt and even into the Far East.

The basic idea of this great spiritual philosophy was about a creative principle behind the cosmos and everything we see. In Israel this principle was named Hokhmah, in Greece Sophia or Logos, in Egypt it was called Ma’at, and in China is was named the Tao. Often in feminine representation (but not always), Lady Wisdom was regarded as the intelligence, purpose, grace, and glory that holds everything in unity.

An arrangement of five apples on the ground, for instance, would be counted as six things – the five apples and the order of their arrangement. This was one aspect of Wisdom. But also, each apple is a certain arrangement of elements; and the tree from which it fell, the ecosystem around the tree, the provident planet of Earth, the solar system, our galaxy and universe entire – this vast complexity of patterns within patterns,  how it all holds together and turns as one, was contemplated as divine in nature.


As we said, the Hebrews named her Wisdom and the Greeks honored him as Logos: the Word. And this is where John’s Gospel picks up the thread. In the opening chapter we are introduced to the Word that was with God, as God, from the very beginning, through whom all things were made (John 1:1-3). This Word, we are told in verse 14, was made flesh and lived (literally “pitched its tent”) among us in the person of Jesus. This passage, by the way, clearly has Sirach 24:1-12 as its inspiration:

Wisdom praises herself,
    and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.
In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth,
    and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:
“I came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
    and covered the earth like a mist.
I dwelt in the highest heavens,
    and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.
Alone I compassed the vault of heaven
    and traversed the depths of the abyss.
Over waves of the sea, over all the earth,
    and over every people and nation I have held sway.
Among all these I sought a resting place;
    in whose territory should I abide?

“Then the Creator of all things gave me a command,
    and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob,
    and in Israel receive your inheritance.’
Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
    and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
10 In the holy tent I ministered before him,
    and so I was established in Zion.
11 Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place,
    and in Jerusalem was my domain.
12 I took root in an honored people,
    in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.

It’s important to remember that in John’s Gospel, Jesus – the historical-specific figure who is the chief protagonist of his narrative – is functioning as the human mouthpiece of this Wisdom/Word which is universally present throughout creation as the creative intelligence and will of God. It would have made no sense in the larger tradition to say that this Wisdom/Word was only here or there, in this individual person from Nazareth and nowhere else. Wisdom is everywhere, or nothing would exist.

Through Jesus (John’s Gospel is saying) the Word of God spoke with a power and clarity unmatched anywhere. While this self-same Wisdom/Word was driving the sprouting seed and guiding the stars in their courses above, in Jesus it was revealed as love for all the world, setting people free by the gift of God’s unconditional forgiveness.

In our passage, Philip asks to see “the Father” – this Gospel’s favored term for God. Jesus replies by inviting Philip to look through him (Jesus) to the divine wisdom of God’s love. The development of Christianity increasingly became about looking at Jesus instead of through him; making him into an object of worship rather following him as the way to love.