by Rev. Salvatore Seirmarco
Director of Mission and Pastoral Care
1 Corinthians 1:18
“For the message of the Cross is foolishness.” Foolishness. Wow, where do I go with that, and not look foolish to boot. As I read and reread this passage today, I kept returning to the word foolishness. The idea of foolishness. “For the message of the cross is foolishness.”
What could be meant by this? Is it really foolish, that what we follow could be foolish? It may have also been that the passage says foolish or foolishness five times. The root word that Paul is using here in the Greek is moros; foolish. To denote deficiency or especially mental deficiency. We get our word moron, to mean a not so bright person, from it. In its form in this passage, it is used to mean a weakness in understanding.So there is a weakness of understanding of the meaning of the cross. Not for those who believe but for those around the church at Corinth. Those who have not experienced the saving power of the cross find it foolish.At the time Paul wrote his letter to the church at Corinth, the Idea of God being a personal deity was a foreign idea. It was foolish. It was even more foolish that that personal God would send his Son to be hung on a tree for those who may believe.
When I first started acting, doing Community Theater, the second show I ever did was called “Flaming Idiots.” Yes, pretty appropriate title if you know me at all, but the show is about to bumbling partners who decide to start a restaurant. To do so they foolishly take a loan from a mobster and get in over their heads. I played the “Norwegian” busboy Ernesto who was hired by the duo and who just happens to be laundering money for the mobster. A Norwegian named Ernesto? Hmm. Anyway, at one point, my character Ernesto is caught dancing with a mop and you can imagine it looked pretty foolish. And for a rookie actor at the time, I felt pretty foolish.
To the people outside the church in Corinth, as well as throughout the Roman Empire at that time, everything about this “Christian” church seemed foolish. Corinth was a city in Greece, and its populace was thoroughly Greek in their understanding of God and wisdom. They understood that all wisdom of the world and of the divine would be revealed by the human mind. They sought to understand everything by gaining knowledge and human wisdom. To these Greeks, the cross was foolish, simply because it was a symbol of torture, a way to kill that was reserved for the lowest of criminals in Roman society. The divine as revealed on the cross did not meet their expectation of the highest human knowledge. And Christ, the one who these foolish Christians proclaimed as God, was foolish for his willingness to die on that cross and to against the religious norms of the time. And believers in Jesus, well we can still be pretty foolish. These things all went beyond human reasoning and wisdom and didn’t focus on being able to shift our own human wisdom.
We are reluctant to trust in the faith of our past, to trust fully in the Christ on the cross. If we cannot see it, feel it, hold it we do not trust it. On stage as an actor or actress, there is a balance, a balance between performer; audience and the word. We trust fully in the written word on the page. We are tasked to bring that word to life, to communicate it to the audience. But we also place our trust in the hands of that audience. We are but actors on a stage playing to the whims of the world. It is our task to communicate the foolish.
We know the truth that is on the page; offering it to the world perhaps for the chance for the world to get a glimpse of the world on the page of the script. And we play the fool. The wisdom of God is foolishness because we believe in the love of Christ and his promise of life. The Christ that gave himself up on the cross remains constant while human wisdom may shift. The Cross was reserved for the lower class of Roman society, so for the power and wisdom of God to be hung on a cross goes against the young church at Corinth’s understanding of wisdom and power. The Greeks looking in from the outside most certainly would have wondered about the power and wisdom of Christ and his teaching.
The knowledge of God goes beyond all that we may ever know. And a way for that Wisdom to be demonstrated was to use the very opposite of power and wisdom to raise up the saving power of God.
Calling, we all have one. What is yours? Are you called to be a teacher? A doctor, a nurse, or policeman. Or are you called to be a preacher, parent or public figure? As Paul says in today’s passage, we proclaim Christ crucified. This was a stumbling block to Jew and Greek back then when he wrote it. It was foolishness. And it continues to be. Our calling is to the cross. To be witnesses to the cross. To proclaim ourselves followers of the crucified Christ. Christ calls us to pick up our cross and follow if we wish to be his disciples. (Mark8: 34)To the world, that’s a pretty foolish thing. To quote “The Call” by Ken Medema, a Christian artist, “it’s a call to live like fools, by another set of rules. It’s a call to death and dying. It’s a call to joy and sorrow. It’s a call to sacrifice.”
Christ came to the world to be a light in the darkness. To be the joy in a world of sorrow. To be a friend of sinners; how foolish. To call those sinners to pick up their cross. Because he willingly went to his death on that shameful cross so that all those who believe and trust in him could leave their failings at the foot of his cross and lose the weight of those failings as they follow him.The love of God that is manifest in Jesus has not been defeated. It cannot be conquered. Jesus is risen, he is present, and the good news is that he has conquered the grave. Christ’s love cannot help but to shout out. It cannot be contained; it must go forth into the world. Jesus is alive, he is present with us, and this cannot be simply held on to, it must be shared. Shared where ever we may be, private and publicly.
We are all called to be fools. To act foolishly. The things of this world are not our motivation. The foolishness of a savior on a cross frees us to go into the world and be living examples of the freedom that that foolishness provides. And in that foolishness, we can provide joy to a world that may be in the darkness of sorrow.