Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Foolishness and Weakness

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 -- -- Week of Proper 19
(Edward Bouverie Pusey, priest, 1882)

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

Audio Podcasts of today's "Morning Reflection" and those from the past week are available from http://www.stpaulsfay.org/id244.html (go to St. Paul's Home Page www.stpaulsfay.org and click "Morning Reflection podcast")

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (p. 984)
Psalms 61, 62 (morning) 68:1-20 (21-23) 24-36 (evening)
1 Kings 21:17-29
1 Corinthians 1:20-31
Matthew 4:12-17

In our reading from 1 Corinthians today, Paul embraces the awkwardness of the cross. The message is one that is easy to ridicule. Our God is one who is executed as a criminal hanging on a shameful cross. Paul says this is the foolishness of God which is simultaneously God's wisdom. Paul recounts the difficulty that he and others encountered defending the cross. "Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom."

To convince Jews that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah was an uphill struggle. Jews would look for signs to confirm a Messianic claim. The signs would need to be fulfillment of the Messianic hopes that are treasured in the Hebrew scriptures. Jews could point to the scripture cursing anyone who is hung on a tree (Dt. 21:23). How could the Messiah die a death that is cursed? They could point to the many prophecies that anticipated the coming of a powerful Messiah who would restore Israel to autonomy and political power. They could point to scriptures that the Messiah would preside over a reign of universal peace, where Jerusalem will be raised as the first of all cities. None of those signs happened, they would say. A crucified Messiah? Ridiculous.

To debate with those schooled in Greek philosophy and rhetoric would also be daunting. A Socratic school of skeptics would ask devastating questions not easily countered. An Aristotelian would be hard pressed to find a deductive path from the cross to anything except foolishness. A Platonic thinker would be offended by the shameful human death of Jesus; that is no ideal, but rather the problem we are trying to escape. Classical Greek thinking would find little that was uplifting or honorable in the story of the cross.

Paul embraces the dilemma. He locates the strength and wisdom of the cross at the intersection of human foolishness and weakness. He turns to his Corinthian listeners. They know what it is to be weak, to be accounted among the illiterate. "Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful..." Paul tells them "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..." This is "bottom-up" religion, not "top-down" religion.

In time, the Church developed apologia for those who demand signs and wisdom. The Church found non-traditional passages in the Hebrew scripture that could apply to the ministry of Jesus. (Many scholars ask how many of the stores about Jesus might have been created by the early Church as fulfillment of prophecies. Are there passages in the Gospel that are "prophecy historicized" rather than "history remembered"?) The Church also found ways to theologize in Greek traditional categories.

But there is something intuitive and powerful about the simple notion that God is at the bottom of things human. Where we find the power of God and the work of resurrection is in the lowest place -- among the poor, the cursed, the despised, the condemned, the foolish, the ignorant, the dying. That's been a hard sell to the worldly wise, comfortable and powerful. But that's not who Jesus came to primarily. God's priorities are directed toward the bottom rather than the top. "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, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God."

How might our evangelism, politics and economics be changed if we fully embraced what Paul is telling us about the cross?


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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

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We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.


At 9:16 PM, Blogger Telmeimrong said...

Jesus, through the cross, died for his elect. We are all poor, cursed, despised, condemned, foolish, ignorant, and dying spiritually.

At 8:27 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Yes. How wonderful that God chose to reveal the divine self by pouring out God's divine life into one who was poor, cursed, despised, condemned, regarded as foolish and ignorant, who cried out from the cross "My God, why have you forsaken me." God is with us, especially in the most forsaken of human conditions.



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