Luke 13:31-35 – Sophia’s Return


Two different passages are brought together. Verses 31-33 are special Lukan source. Verses 34-35 are Q material, virtually identical in Matthew and Luke, except Matthew adds “desolate” in Mt. 23:38, and “again” in 23:39. I will not explore Matthew’s addition in this presentation.

Jesus was in the midst of teaching the events that will come to pass at the end of the age, Luke 13:22-30, when he is interrupted by some Pharisees.

The Pharisees bring news to Jesus. Leave this place (Galilee) now. Herod wants to kill Jesus. There are two ideas here that need to be examined. One is the warning to leave; the other is the intention of Herod. Why do the Pharisees show such a depth of concern for Jesus? Are they concerned about his life or about his death? The question does not have an answer but it touches upon something that is hidden. In Luke 13:31-33 there is the opposition of this world (Herod) and the world to come (Jesus). Herod, the tetr-arches is challenging the one who is en-arche. The king of one-fourth of a territory wants to destroy the one who is to rule the cosmos. Wanting to kill Jesus is an attempt to prevent the coming kingdom. Not long ago Jesus had told his disciples, 12:32, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The world does not tolerate alternatives. It is focused upon itself. Jesus replies to the “messenger” Pharisees, “Go and tell that fox I cast out demons and perform cures.” Earlier he had said something similar to the disciples of John, “God and tell John what you have seen and heard.” Luke 7:22-23. The eschatological message announces that the messianic age has dawned, demons are cast out, people are healed, and the good news is preached. In Luke 11:20 he says, “If I by the finger of God cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” Even the Pharisees bringing news to Jesus about the intention of Herod are participants in the announcement of the good news: they must now go and tell what they have heard. I wonder what it would have been like to preach the good news to Herod.

(A question to consider: the Pharisees warn Jesus about Herod’s intention to kill him. How, then, can Jesus send them back to Herod with a message? Does Jesus suspect that they are agents of Herod? And if they are agents of Herod, is it likely that Herod himself wants to warn Jesus that his life is in danger?)

“Go and tell that fox.” Herod is wise and skillful in the ways of the world. His wisdom together with what he knew of John the Baptist would have convinced him that Jesus was a different threat from John. Jesus says that he is “casting out demons and performing cures.” These are activities of the messianic age as seen in apocalyptic literature. The world of the demonic is always opposed to the world of the Divine. We saw that in the Temptation. In the world of the demonic sickness prevails. In the world of the Divine there is health. Rev.21:3-4. Jesus is healing “today and tomorrow and on the third day my task shall be fulfilled.” Again this is an apocalyptic theme: the announcement of the time (today and tomorrow) before the end. The life of Jesus before his Passion is one of healing and casting out demons. That is his activity in this world, this time. His Passion and Resurrection, the fulfillment of his mission takes place in the world to come, in a different time, “the third day.” Jesus must go on his way; that is the messianic task has to be completed. See John 9:4. He knows that he must go to Jerusalem, for that is where his Passion will come to pass.

What can we conclude from verses 31-33? It is an interruption and perhaps a conclusion, for with verses 34-35 which the Evangelist imports from the approach to Jerusalem, the Passion begins to be more dominant. Herod will indeed be involved in the killing of Jesus, but not right away. There is a history between Jesus and Herod. In Luke 9:9 Herod sought to see Jesus. In our passage Herod wanted to kill Jesus. In Luke 23:9 Herod hoped to see Jesus because he wanted to see him perform a sign.  Herod failed in all three cases. Jesus must run the course “today and tomorrow and the day following.” The journey to Jerusalem is already an essential part of the Passion. As a matter of fact, the journey to Jerusalem is the complete sub-text of Luke’s Gospel. The Journey is the Exodus Story of Jesus, with similarities to the Exodus Story of Moses. The Evangelist has in mind to express in Luke-Acts the Exodus Story of Jesus, his Exile in the Wilderness, and his ultimate Restoration of Israel. In Acts 1:6 it is so stated. “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” The journey will disclose the identity and the divine purpose of the one “who comes in the name of the Lord.” “It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”  The Passion will disclose everything. In this bit of Lukan material Jesus is still presented as the apocalyptic prophet of the end times.

It is verse 33 with the mention of Jerusalem that the Evangelist ties together these two passages. What purpose does he have in mind? From the time of Jeremiah Jerusalem has been the symbol of the people and the community. It is the eschatological center of salvation. Isaiah 65:19-25. Isa.40. Lam.4:22. But Jerusalem is unaware. Isaiah calls upon it to wake up! Isaiah 51:17. Jerusalem is reluctant to receive the mercy of the divine. Haggai 2:17; Amos 4:9; Prov. 1:24-25. This is the background against which the whole Gospel is constructed.

Let us take a brief look at purpose of the Gospel. In the prologue (1:1-4) the Evangelist wants to set forth the truth about what Theophilus has been instructed. That is, Theophilus already knows the content of the Gospel as “the events that have been fulfilled among us” and presented by eye-witnesses and servants of the “logos.” The Evangelist is writing about something that has been fulfilled, and I’m suggesting that Luke’s Gospel is written against the background of the Exodus and the Exile, and is therefore his understanding of the Restoration, the in-gathering of the people of God.

In the Annunciation it says “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (1:32-33). Simeon sings, “my eyes have seen your salvation.” John the Baptist says, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”  The prophetess Anna “spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” The Temptation discloses that Jesus defeats chaos (the Exile in the Wilderness) and ushers in cosmos (the New Jerusalem symbolizing the gathering in of the people of God, the Restoration). The sermon at Nazareth demonstrates Jesus accepting his mission under the Spirit, and “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,” that the redemption of Jerusalem, the people, has been accomplished once and for all. The Evangelist continues to disclose his purpose, that is, to present the restoration of the people of God throughout the gospel and into the Acts of the Apostles. This is why the Evangelist imports the lament over Jerusalem at this transitional point.

No doubt about it, the lament over Jerusalem is out of place here. Jesus has not yet arrived in Jerusalem. Matthew has the correct order of events. Commentators are agreed that it cannot be Jesus who is uttering this lament. There is no indication that he has tried to gather Jerusalem. Again scholars are agreed that this is the voice of Sophia that is speaking. The Q document from which verses 34-35 are taken shows both apocalyptic and wisdom features.  Question to think about: Is the lament over Jerusalem in Q older than Q itself? The Sophia myth is very prominent in Jewish apocalyptic such as Ethiopic Enoch and Sirach, and has influenced the development of New Testament apocalyptic.  Bultmann in HST says “the whole verse has to be understood in the light of the myth of divine Wisdom, in which, after Wisdom dwells on the earth and calls men to follow her in vain, leaves the world, and man now searches for her in vain. Wisdom foretells that she will remain hidden until the coming of the Messiah; for only he can be meant by the “one who is coming in the name of the Lord.”

Very early Q presented Jesus as the Wisdom of God. See also the following references. Mark 6:2 “What is the wisdom given to him?” Luke 2:40. Jesus became “filled with wisdom.” Luke 2:52 “he increased in wisdom.” Luke 7:35. “Wisdom is justified by her children.” See Mt. 11:19. Luke 11:31 “to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” See Mt 12:42. Luke 21:15 “I will give you a mouth and wisdom…” Paul refers to Christ in I Cor. 1:24 “as the power of God and as the wisdom of God. In Col.2:3 we read, “in Christ is hidden all the wisdom of God.” The Logos returns to history as Sophia.

Wisdom has wanted to “gather” Jerusalem. See Mark 13:27; Mt. 24:31; Ps. 147:2; Isa. 56:8. It speaks to the eschatological gathering in of God’s people in the age to come. Divine Wisdom speaks of the exile and restoration. Proverbs 1:24-25 is clear on this. Wisdom, the Divine voice, laments that Jerusalem is in exile and refuses the mercy of God. The Lord will laugh at the calamity of Jerusalem, and will mock them. How often the Lord wished (was willing to) to gather his people! But they did not wish it (will it). As in the Temptation there is a conflict of wills. Jerusalem stands on its own will, rejecting the will of God. I believe this passage is about the Passion of Christ, the struggle of the divine will against the human will, the continuing battle between chaos and cosmos. The people refused to surrender their will to the will of the Divine. That is why the gathering was hindered. “Therefore your house is forsaken.” 13:35. But the Lord will “perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us, that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.” Luke 1:72-75.

The in-gathering of the people, that is, the restoration of the people of God is expressed equally strong in the words synagogue and ekklesia. This idea needs to be pursued further, but this is not the place for such an examination. Synagogue and church are the gathering places of the holy people. In Luke 15, the three parables are all illustrations of the extent to which the Divine goes in search of its own, to bring them back into its own orbit. This teaching certainly seems to be a function of Sophia, as is the content of the Sermon on the Plain. 6:17-49.

The Divine persists in fulfilling its promise. For this reason Sophia says you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” To say, legein, is to bring what is said out of hiding where it can be seen and embraced. When Jerusalem says “Blessed is he” Jerusalem uncovers the one who is to come in the name of the Lord. This is another promise. You will see me, but it will be when you open your eyes. When you are able to receive the revelation of redemption, you will see me. Simeon, John the Baptist and Anna all knew to power of sight, the vision that knows the Messiah. “He who comes in the name of the Lord,” is another name for the Messiah. The coming one will fulfill the work of redemption and restoration. Luke 22:14-18 points to the urgency of the coming kingdom. Jesus will not eat with his disciples until “the Passover is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Jesus is so certain of this restoration that he appoints his disciples as the leaders of the new age. 22:28-30.

Even though 13:31-33 and 34-35 do not seem to be related they belong together because they reveal the purpose of the Evangelist for writing this gospel that speaks the truth of what Theophilus has already heard. Luke sees the restoration of God’s people as the primary function of the Messiah. The Journey to Jerusalem provides the vehicle through which the Evangelist presents his story. History and eschatology inform and instruct each other.

A word needs to be said about the Sophia-myth. Let me share some earlier thoughts on this matter. This may serve the interest more of hermeneutics and of homiletics.

Poetry wrestles from the heart of myth the true likeness of the Divine. So much of the speech of Jesus in Matthew does the same. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus as the Revealer is often presented as the Sophia of God, the Divine Sophia. Behind Jesus’ invitation to take his yoke and so find rest is the Sophia myth of union. Myth is a grudgingly enlightening term, as mythos precedes logos, and even now is still considered pejoratively. Rather than myth, perhaps we may say that the Sophia narratives in the background of wisdom, prophecy, Gnosticism and apocalyptic, convey the creative power of the Divine that seeks out the human, only to be rejected, returning to its heavenly abode until the time is right to return. Mythos, as original narrative, is the breaking forth of revelation. The content of the Revealer’s revelation is Sophia that invites the human to return to its origin. Myth is the original ground of the narrative, both its method and its content. Sophia narratives arise in a variety of contexts as the different literary forms disclose. What unites the narratives is their power to reveal the Divine as wandering in search of its own. In Luke 7:35, Sophia will be vindicated by her children, or more literally, Sophia will be justified by her children for her action. She is inseparable from her children, that which has arisen from within herself, and she seeks to bring them into harmonious union, the state of redemption. Perhaps Sophia keeps a watchful eye over Logos.

Jesus compares his generation to children who cannot be pleased. “We played for you, you did not dance. We wailed, you did not weep.” They cared neither for John the Baptist, nor for the Son of Man. Luke 7: 31-36. They accepted neither prophet nor Son of Man. He concluded with a seeming non sequitur: “wisdom is vindicated by her children.” Who is this Sophia? Who are her children? Of what is Sophia vindicated? In the reading Sophia stands alongside Logos. Is Logos one of the children of Sophia? Sophia as wisdom is something that goes forth, leaves its place, uproots itself, and spreads itself abroad. Sophia as wisdom is the Source of thought and thinking, the birthplace of reason, logos, the logical. Sophia as wisdom stands next to Logos in the market place, witnessing the rejection of what is existentially her reason for being. Sophia, the Creator’s Otherness, has equal claim to “the children” for they are brought to being in her. Her going forth is their coming to be. Her spreading abroad is their generating. The marketplace, the place of gathering for trade is a place where time is temporary. The marketplace does not embrace the eternal, it is not a place of transcendence, it endures but a little while and then is gone. The marketplace cannot embrace Sophia, the eternal. That which is heavenly, the Divine, is rejected in favor of what is temporal, for until the human comes to understand that it is the child of Sophia, it will not know its eternal nature. Sophia will be vindicated, embraced by her children when that which is human comes to understand that it, too, bears the face of the Divine. Sophia, standing in the Light of the Logos, in the nearness of the divine, is revealed by that Light to her children. The embrace happens in the Light of revelation.

 

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