Scripture Passage: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-21, 24-25 (Lent 3B)
18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe… 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Well, you have to give Paul credit. After all, he’s the only one that actually said what we were all thinking out loud. Admit it, you were. I mean, really? After years and years (no scratch that, after centuries and centuries and centuries) of waiting for a Savior, waiting for the Messiah, he finally shows up. He’s from a no-name-blip-on-the-road town and is born in another no-name-blip-on-the-road town to young, no-name working-class peasants. He’s born in a grotto of some sort and is placed in a feed trough. Then after a considerable amount of hoopla surrounding his birth, he sort of drops out of site for three decades or so. Then he bursts onto the scene to take on the world. He’s baptized in a river by some relative of his that lives in the wilderness and wears camel hair and eats locusts. Then he goes out and lives in the desert for six weeks or so completely alone. Then instead of hobnobbing with those who had the power to finally make his ministry fruitful, he hangs around the Lake of Galilee for a couple of years gathering other no-name folks to help him out. He shies away from things like pledge campaigns and evangelism programs and instead opts to tell stories, to stand out in the weather and the elements and try to get people not necessarily on board with his fledgling ministry but just to turn their lives around. He never even, as far as I can tell, took up an offering unless you count that meager fish lunch that he somehow managed to use to feed the multitudes.
Then this young itinerant pastor and his motley brood make their way to Jerusalem. They go right in the gates, taking on the best and the brightest, taking on the Holy City itself. I mean, who writes this stuff? Well, we know how it all turned out. Because, you see, when you take on the strong and the powerful, when you begin to unseat those in charge, when you point to their vulnerabilities, to their shortcomings, it seldom ends well. You know, there are seasons and places where that can get you crucified!
In this Season of Lent, as we come closer and closer to the cross, we get a better and better sense of its meaning. Because in terms of the world, Jesus, Jesus’ Life, even the Cross is utter foolishness. The world says “mind your own business”; Jesus says “there is no such thing as your own business”. The world says “buy low, sell high”; Jesus says “give it all away”. The world says “take care of your health”; Jesus says “surrender your life to me”. The world says “Drive carefully—the life you save may be your own”; Jesus says “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The world says “get what you are due”; Jesus says, “love your neighbor as yourself”.
So, we try our best to make the story presentable to the world. We polish the gleaming cross at the front of the sanctuary. We make the pews comfortable with back support and we make sure the temperature is comfortable. We spend hours making the bulletin user-friendly so it will all make sense. (Like putting the words of the whole Scripture text in the bulletin when there’s a Bible right there in the pew!) And none of us would dare consider running church past the prescribed one-hour time allotment.
Maybe once in a while, it would do us good to embrace the sheer foolishness of it all instead of trying to make it presentable to the world. After all, this promise of Life did not come to us unscathed. God’s promise is life born of death. It does not just appear in the midst of a beautiful array of carefully-placed lilies on Easter morning. God took something so horrific, so dirty, so unacceptable and recreated it into Life Everlasting. But in terms of what we know, what we expect, even what we deserve, it is an act of utter foolishness. Perhaps wisdom, though, is not about worshipping a gleaming, pristine cross but rather looking at an instrument of death and seeing the life it holds. Because, you see, if it all made sense, we wouldn’t need it at all.
The truth is, the ones that got it were not the powerful or the rich or the ones in charge. The ones who got it were the ones whose lives the world assumes makes no sense—the poor, the blind, the prisoners, the weak, the meek, the givers, the peacemakers, even the outsiders. They were the ones who think the world should change. The ones that don’t fit into what the world expects, those that the world thinks are less than others or are being foolish themselves, those are the ones that get the Cross, those are the ones that can make sense of the foolishness of God. And the rest of us? Maybe we are indeed the fools.
“If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party…In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under delusion.” (Frederick Buechner, “The Faces of Jesus”)
Grace and Peace,