31 March: 1 Corinthians 1.18-31

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.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

 


This passage from Paul to the Corinthians about the way the message about the Cross was being received by them starts with an uncomfortable ‘us ‘and ‘them’ dialectic (‘those who are perishing’ …us who are being saved’) Apparently Paul perceives that this message is received profoundly differently by both these defined groups. But I find that I belong to both. Am I being saved? Am I perishing? I certainly often find the message of the cross foolish- puzzling anyway…and I rarely connect the word ‘power’ to my understanding of the Cross. I clearly do not have the immediacy of experience of God that Paul obviously had to secure his understanding.

Paul quickly moves into paradox … he quotes scripture as saying that God, who is all wisdom presumably, vows to ‘destroy the wisdom of the wise.’ Paul then seems to modify this and says from a position of either deep cynicism or, more likely extraordinary insight into the mind of God, that it is not that God wants to destroy wisdom, but that He cannot find any ‘wise’ people on the earth anyway…where are they? Some, like the Jews, he says, seek ‘signs ‘, (magical evidences?) some, like the Greeks, go on looking for a wisdom that constantly escapes them.

But Paul, both a Jew and a Greek speaker brought up in Tarsus, has found something else, has in fact ‘met’, in his vision on the road to Damascus, Christ crucified…and this paradoxically brings him new life, and unassailable conviction. Paul then explains something to me which is at one level obvious-that God’s foolishness in allowing men to crucify Him is nevertheless wiser than a human’s wisdom, and His weakness, His actual physical destruction, is stronger than human strength… This is indeed foolishness unless it presupposes belief in Christ being truly the Creator and Redeemer who cares about His creation, both Jew and Gentile and even me.

Paul turns from this paradox to a further one. The ‘foolish’ Creator God, does not use the humanly, and therefore foolishly, rich or wise or powerful of this earth to reveal this mystery to us, but the actually unwise, the vulnerable, the outsider, the sick, those who are misunderstood, who get it wrong, the crazy –who unconsciously or consciously embody the pattern of humility that reflects the wisdom of Jesus, ‘who became for us wisdom from God ‘.

Now this begins to feel like a group I can belong to. I can go on stumbling, falling flat on my face. I can go on struggling to understand, but not to understand. I am perishing, yes, here and now with my monumentally unwise and stubborn resistances, anxieties, arrogance ,blindness and deafness, but I am also being saved because now I begin, through God’s grace alone to have a flicker of an understanding about the ‘foolishness ‘and the cost of God’s kind of power of love and acceptance…perhaps, if I have to boast, I can boast in this.

‘Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief