Our July lessons highlight Woman Wisdom’s presence beyond Proverbs and into all four Gospels. However, her feminine name changes from the Hebrew hokmah into the Greek sophia, so we can recognize her gracious presence as Lady Sophia.
In Matthew 11, Sophia is not mentioned by name until verse 19, yet she pervades this entire chapter. At the end (11:28-30), Jesus uses her words from Sirach (6:24-30; 51:23-26) to offer rest to the weary.
In Matt. 11:19, “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” What are those deeds? Already in verse 2, John the Baptist, imprisoned by an evil deed, sends his disciples to question Jesus’ identity.
“Are you really the messianic Savior I proclaimed?” asks John. But the only credentials Jesus offers are his deeds of mercy to the poorest and most disabled. Not exactly the political takeover some hoped for.
As John’s disciples leave, Jesus addresses the crowds around him by praising John as the greatest human being alive. In verse 10, he is the messenger promised by the prophet Malachi in 3:1.
But even John was not initiating a violent takeover. “What did you expect to see in the wilderness?” Jesus challenges. “A reed (symbol of royalty) shaken in the wind? A ruler dressed in soft robes as if in a royal palace?”
Never! The kingdom of God now suffers violence, but to respond in kind is not Wisdom’s method. Instead, John is Elijah (verse 14), calling people back to their covenant relationship with God (Mal. 4:5).
To underscore Jesus’ frustration with this entire generation of Palestinian Jews, he compares them to children trying to entertain their audience in the marketplace by playing either happy or sad games. Neither attempt works. Likewise, neither John’s ascetic lifestyle nor Jesus’ celebratory meals with sinners please the people (11:16-19).
Despite their inability to satisfy anyone, Jesus insists that both he and John represent true wisdom. Lady Sophia herself is vindicated by the different methods of her messengers, John and Jesus (verse 19).
In a later era and a vastly different culture, what deeds of ours would vindicate Lady Sophia today? Should our lifestyles express love by obeying health experts and practicing social distancing? Should we share our stimulus checks with migrants and other struggling jobless folks? Should we march with Black Lives Matter — or support military intervention? Will Wisdom be vindicated by her deeds today?
Luke 2:39-52 takes us back in time to Jesus at age 12, just before the age a Jewish child is initiated into adulthood. Jesus’ growth in wisdom frames this text at beginning and end (verses 40 and 52), a reminder of his development from infancy through youth.
Yet any responsible parent can relate to the panic Mary and Joseph felt hunting for their son in Passover-choked Jerusalem. No matter how precocious Jesus was, or how strong his relationship with his spiritual Father, something was missing. Oblivious to his family, the almost-adult Jesus heads for the temple and the religious teachers. How exciting to debate with them for three days!
But I’m with Mary in this story. “Son, do you realize we were walking home a whole day, over 15 miles, thinking you were in the crowd with your friends? Then back another 15 miles, and three more days trudging all over Jerusalem hunting for you!”
As a parent, how receptive would you be to an explanation of “I was in my Father’s house” —when his earthly father had been frantically searching for him?
Like many of our own children, the young Jesus had to learn the difference between spiritual insight and everyday common sense and respect for others. Probably Jesus’ “increase in wisdom and years” is what verse 52 implies.
Since retiring from teaching New Testament at Messiah College, Reta Halteman Finger adjuncts at Eastern Mennonite University, is a contributing editor at Sojourners magazine and writes a bimonthly Bible study blog, Reta’s Reflections, at eewc.com.