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.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Doctor Who often embodies this foolish wisdom. Doctor Who is a british television series about an extraterrestrial being who appears human and is called the Doctor. They travel the universe through space and time visiting alien planets and historical sites, often helping stop people trying to change time or cause oppression on the universe. As I have been enjoying the 12th season with the first female Doctor, I have noticed this foolish wisdom come up again and again. The Doctor is notorious for never using weapons to solve problems even when guns and bombs are being used against her. In fact this tension comes up again and again as her human companions often want to resort to violence to help solve problems. However, the Doctor always scolds them and always finds a better way to solve the problem.
Paul writes this letter to the Corinthians, a group of Jews and Gentiles, who have been relying more on worldly wisdom than in the liberating love of God found on the cross. The main problem for us today is that we have completely removed the cross from its original and scandalous meaning. We have watered it down to be something we hang around our necks. We see pictures of people holding huge guns with a big cross in the background as if the cross supports violence in any form.
We surround ourselves with crosses today but do we truly understand their foolishness. It would be like having an electric chair or a noose as our symbol of liberation and love. Can you imagine someone worshipping and praying at the foot of the gallows? The cross was used by the Roman Empire as a tool of oppression. It was a death dealing device to keep people in line. It was famously used to put down slave revolts in popular media like Spartacus and Game of Thrones. Just like the lynching tree and prisons have been used to keep minorities in line in America.
Our faith looks foolish! There is no way around it. We worship a convicted felon who was tried and executed by the state. We worship someone who was despised by the religious leaders, who broke the rules and flipped tables. We worship someone who dined with sex workers and traitors to the Jewish people. We worship someone who critiqued the Roman rule and the Jewish customs, never standing by the common wisdom of the so called powers that be. Why did anyone follow this fool?
Paul calls the cross a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. This word stumbling black is actually skandalon in the Greek. Which, yes, is connected to our modern word for scandal. The literal word was most commonly used in Greek as the part of a hunting trap or snare as the part that caused animals to get tripped up or caught. It is a trap that blocks off our thinking. There is no way that the cross makes sense if we think about it from worldly wisdom. Jesus lost. Violence won. The state was able to destroy this threat to their violent rule. The religious leaders were able to remove this usurper. The newly charged Jesus movement was over. The cross is a stumbling block, a trap, a scandal.
And perhaps, perhaps this year that is not such a bad thing. Sometimes we need to be tripped. Sometimes we need to be jarred out of our comfort and illusions. Sometimes we need to jolted awake from the dreamland and assumptions we have been living with. Lent is a time to wake up and be reminded that our God is scandalous, scandalous in this wild and generous love, a love that knows no bounds, that requires no payment, that forgives unconditionally.
And perhaps as we reflect on the scandal of the cross, on the death of God, on the ethic of love that we have been given, we can turn our wisdom into foolishness. A foolishness that says out of death can come life. A foolishness that sets the prisoners free and feeds the hungry. A foolishness that hopes and works for a new world order where everyone is cared for and loved. Perhaps our neighbors will call us fools but they will never say we do not love.
From the Ten Commandments and the beginning of the covenants between God and humanity, God has invited us into this ethic of love. A worldview, a way of living that is defined by God’s wisdom and not our own. And whenever we as Christ followers are confronted with ideologies that do not have a love ethic such as elitism, capitalism, white supremacy, individualism that encourage us to betray our neighbors, we can turn towards God’s ethic of love and find a different path to travel. As we seek Christ’s way, may we turn toward this foolish ethic of love. May we turn toward our neighbor with an outstretched hand of welcome and sustenance. May we turn toward the cross and remember that love wins. Amen.