The "foolishness" of what we believe
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Tuesday, March 30th: Psalm 71:1-14; Isaiah 49:1-7; John 12:20-36; and 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
We continue to make our way through Holy Week today. Yesterday we spoke about Jesus’ Messiahship being so different from what the people expected and what the authorities judged orthodox that Jesus was rejected quickly. There were high hopes that Jesus would be a saviour like Judas Maccabaeus, not one like Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. Even though intrigued by Jesus and mesmerized by the wonders He performed, Jesus’ contemporaries could not relinquish their own dogmas.
This was an important lesson both learned and repeated by Christians.
As a lesson learned, it is stated rather famously by Paul in today’s 1 Corinthian’s selection: “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.” The cross is perceived as both obstacle and foolishness, says the evangelizing apostle who is building the first-generation church, but in truth it is the power and wisdom of God.
Paul did not shy away from this foolishness of a crucified Saviour. If we did not have the Gospels, if we only had Paul’s Epistles, we would know nothing of Jesus’ life before Good Friday. Paul’s gospel, at least his written gospel, begins with the cross. The very obstacle of the Suffering Servant becomes Paul’s point of “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17) Paul realized the limitations of orthodoxy and dogma as such. They constrained the freedom of God to continue to reveal Himself.
It is one thing to apply this lesson in retrospect. We self-righteously fault the Jewish people of Jesus’ day for holding on to their dogmas and rejecting Jesus, but we then refrain from applying this lesson to Christianity. It is a part of our continuing spiritual DNA to hold on to what is made forever sacred, is made into unchanging dogma, by the fact of its antiquity. In the Greek philosophy that provided the scaffolding of eventual Christian theology, change was a sign of inferiority and anathema to God. We have absorbed the transgression we assigned to the people who rejected Jesus and destigmatized it by claiming our unchanging dogma is different.
It is different in that we accept Jesus as the Son of God, but it is the same when we dogmatize Jesus because then we reject Paul’s warning of Christ as a stumbling-block and foolishness. God’s wisdom is going to startle – even Christians.
I’m reading an interesting book presently (thank you inter-library loan). It is Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder. Steinbeck was not a religious person. He was raised Episcopalian, but was agnostic. His masterpiece was The Grapes of Wrath. It decried the fate of the disposed farmers of the Depression era. Steinbeck was brutally honest in his portrayal to the point that his book was banned in some communities and he was labeled a Communist. The growers’ association, who took advantage of these displaced people, sullied Steinbeck’s character and morality because he revealed the immorality of what was happening. If Jesus walked the fertile valleys of 1930’s California, would He have dwelt among the impoverished or sat in on grower’s association meetings? Where would Jesus’ moral compass point Him to?
I think Jesus would have chosen the dispossessed. I think Jesus would have appreciated Steinbeck’s efforts to shine a light on the immoral treatment of these families, the same Steinbeck who was judged immoral for daring to point out the immorality. To be open to God’s continuing, and challenging, revelation does not equate with moving past Jesus. It means making ourselves more open to Jesus and to His “foolishness,” to not be satisfied by repeating dogmas, but to invest ever more fully in “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” This is the call of Holy Week.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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