Take a look at this passage :
For 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. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where 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? For 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. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)
When you read this passage you are reading “pure Paul”. Paul was a man schooled and skilled in classical rhetoric – the ability to ‘play with words’, particularly the setting up of contrasts and paradoxes. This passage is a supreme example, in which Paul takes predictable definitions of wisdom and foolishness, and turns them upside down. It’s easy to get lost in the abstractness of this passage while trying to follow his Snakes and Ladders route through wisdom/folly, but his point is at heart quite simple : The Jesus Story – and particularly the bit about the Cross – makes no sense to the sensible.
Yes, that’s right. The Jesus story makes no sense. It defies 1st century categories of ‘common sense’ or ‘intelligent wisdom’, and it still does in our century. Paul insists that the Cross of Jesus is the crux – literally – of God’s healing and reconciling relationship with humanity. And reading that sentence doesn’t ‘make sense’ does it? As one commentary on Paul puts it “the cross was a lousy marketing tool in the1st century world.” Agreed. It’s no better in the 21st century either.
No amount of philosophical wisdom, theological education, innate Mensa-like intelligence is going to make the story of the cross of Jesus ‘sensible’. The Christian faith is centred on this story of God loving the world so much that God becomes physically enfleshed in our world in Jesus, an itinerant carpenter / teacher, who is executed by Rome for disturbing the status quo with his message of the Kingdom of God. God Crucified makes no sense. Those of us who are tempted to make it so, says Paul, are barking up the wrong tree. We will be laughed at by the sensible who will tell us “believing in a God who loses makes no sense.” And ultimately we will fail, at the level of logic, to make this awful cross seem anything like good news.
And yet…. Paul says, to “those who are being saved it is the power of God.” Well there’s a mouth-full! “Being saved” is such loaded language these days, and “power of God” isn’t that much better. To me, ‘being saved’ needs to be seen in the context of God’s love. What might this phrase mean to someone who, in the midst of tremendous anxiety over the illness of a parent, or a child? When the community gathers, to pray, to provide rides to the nursing home, to look after the other kids, to festoon the doorstep with casseroles, to offer a hug, and a wordless tear of empathy, I wonder if that’s when the anxious one experiences the ‘saving’ presence of the love of God coming so close that the experience of human suffering is known and shared with this Crucified One, who is the very expression of the intimate – and saving – love of God. Does that make sense to the head? Probably not, but as I write this, and as I think of the times when I have experienced it in my times of turmoil, I KNOW I can feel (sense) in my heart and soul ……..holy wisdom that defies wise foolishness……
What do you think?? To leave a comment, click on the tiny “comments” just below, and it will open a reply box for you.