Image: Icon of Holy Wisdom.
‘Abba, Hokmah, Sophia, Messiah …’
Easter 5, Year A
Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31; John 14:1-14
Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen Abba God.” Abba/Amma is Aramaic for divine source of life, God as loving father and mother of all. “Whoever has seen me – walked with me, talked with me, shared with me – has encountered God.”
The humanity of Jesus is God’s “real presence”, to use a sometimes-contentious term with respect to the Eucharist – bread and wine as worthy bearers of the divine – God in and through the sharing of food and drink …
Bread broken and shared is “enough” to show us God. A cup of wine passed from hand to hand is “enough” to show us God. It can be startling to realise as much.
Perhaps it’s the most startling aspect of our gospel today – the real presence of Abba God in the Word (Torah or Logos) made flesh. The real presence of Amma God in Jesus our Companion (from the Latin meaning “the one with whom we share bread”).
Jewish listeners will hear allusions to Holy Wisdom (Hokmah in Hebrew; Sophia in Greek, as in philosophia, friend of Wisdom).
In various texts from the Hebrew Scriptures, Sophia symbolises cosmic and healing power. And in their efforts to describe this creativity in Jesus the Messiah (Christ in Greek), several New Testament writers draw on this tradition.
The apostle Paul refers to Christ as “the power of God and the Sophia of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24), and states that Christ “became for us Sophia from God” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Matthew and Luke refer to Wisdom vindicated by Jesus and John the Baptist, by every child of God and all good works (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:35).
The portrait of Jesus in John’s philosophical gospel draws heavily on the same tradition. We might hear: “In the beginning was Sophia, and Sophia was with God, and God was Sophia … Sophia became flesh and lived among us.”
The theme is worked out distinctively in the seven “I am” sayings in John, which echo sayings of Sophia imaged as provider of sustenance, bread, wine and water (Proverbs 9:5; Sirach 24:21), vine (Sirach 24), gate/access to life (Proverbs 3:16-18; 8:34-35; Sirach 4:12), way to salvation (Sirach 24:16-19), everlasting light (Ecclesiastes 2:13; Wisdom 7:26-30), and giver of life (Proverbs 3:16-17; 8:25,32-35; 9:11; Sirach 6:26; Wisdom 8:13).
Icons of Holy Wisdom, with reference to Jewish and Christian, Indigenous and Hindu teachings (Sophia and Shiva in a fiery dance), show a cross-gender or “gender-full” quality (Rebecca Kiser).
There is (at least) one other startling aspect. Jesus says, “The truth of the matter is, anyone who has faith in me will do the works I do – and greater works besides.” Faithful disciples will do greater works than Jesus!
The verse subverts a lazy desire to make of Jesus a super-human idol rather than a Companion in the Spirit, rather than God’s real presence in, with and through our human/e desires for justice, kindness and peace.
The Incarnation, in other words, continues in, with and through us. In, with and through martyrs like Stephen, converts like Saul/Paul, and all the friends of Jesus/Sophia in every time and place; in our diversity, in our capacities for empathy and solidarity.
Anyone who has faith in Jesus, anyone who loves Wisdom, will perform good works. It is a simple and radical teaching – inclusive as well as demanding in the sense that it offers no spiritual shortcuts.
For no one comes to Abba God but through embodied love, the practice of Wisdom, respect for culture and tradition – bodies in time and space. No one comes to Amma God but through embodied love – care for the Stranger, reverence for Creation – the Earth as God’s body (Sally McFague), bodies of water, heavenly bodies.
An intimate relationship with the words and works of Jesus, the power and Sophia of God, leads to our becoming more deeply embodied – more deeply aware of our fragility, more deeply attentive to Wisdom’s insistent promise. Inter-carnations (Catherine Keller) call us to intercede for one another.
In our own trembling flesh and situation, and in community as the body of Christ – spaced out, stretched out, reaching out – we may yet discover something more of existence, of animal existence, of Creation itself and the fiery dance. Even now. Especially now. Amen.