Friday, April 06, 2007

Folly and Weakness

I meditated on 1 Corinthians 1: 20–25 this morning, and I had another one of those moments that Julie D. would call the Holy 2 x 4. This particular epistle always seems to do it to me, I think in large part of the contrast of wisdom and foolishness. Verses 20–25 are, to extend Julie's metaphor, the point of contact:

20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The meaning is plain: what we consider wise is no match even for the foolishness of God; what we consider strong is far less than the strength of God. The part that thwacked me upside the head was verse 23, "but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block for Jews and folly to Gentiles." Why is Christ crucified a stumbling block? Why folly?

To the Jews, this man claiming to be the Messiah, a political king and conqueror, is also hung upon a cross, thus, accursed. How can he redeem (in human fashion) Israel as such? He's exactly the opposite of what a human society would think it needed. He said we had to eat His body and drink His blood to have life in us. What Jew could accept that counsel? Christ was an enigma to them. He contradicted everything they expected and believed about the Messiah.

To the Greeks, folly. They believed the body to be a prison for the spirit and death to be a release. Why would they want to be raised from the dead? The wisdom of Plato, as wise as it might've been, had given them a wrong view of the relationship between matter and spirit. They ridiculed Paul when he preached the Resurrection.

As Christ Himself said, he was a sign of contradiction.

He said He would be lifted up and draw all men to Himself. He turned a symbol of ignominious death into a symbol of healing. And at the moment of His greatest human weakness, His utter debasement and apparent discredit, He utterly defeated Satan and sin.

The crucifix is the perfect representation of this contradiction: two opposed beams, crossing each other, running perpendicular to each other, a point of decision for us. Right there. Christ at His weakest. Can we accept Satan's defeat? Can we accept an "accursed" Messiah?
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