Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are a treasure trove. Throughout these two letters the Spirit sows the seeds that grow into a marvelous succession of images and ways of being that bring us to the heart and soul of the Good News that Paul preaches with clear-sighted focus, vigor and single-minded ardor.
He begins with an appeal to unity. To begin from oneness so that the rest may proceed from the wholeness and well-being that was the gift of the Creator now through his Son. Jesus’ mission was to regather, to reunite the dispersed tribes of Israel. Now Paul takes this charge up as his mission as well extending his churches as the new creation in Christ, the Israel of God. But there is still wrangling among the coverts as to what this means. Who would they follow? Peter, Apollos, Paul? No, Paul says, Christ cannot be divided. With the longer view of two thousand years behind us this sounds like a great irony. For we know that indeed the Christian faith has been dispersed among many factions and denominations. But for Paul what is important is building the body of Christ. One Body. Building a community of faithful who will unite around the one Lord, not any one person’s preaching, but the wisdom of God.
So he begins writing about wisdom. Because the dissention revolves around, again, how to rationalize something that Paul emphasizes at the beginning of Corinthians is not rational. The wisdom that we are shown here is not the wisdom of the reason or philosophy but the wisdom of what appears to the world as folly. That a man would hang on a cross and by doing so bring what he calls salvation to the world. It is this wisdom that looks certainly like folly. This kind of folly that sees strength in powerlessness, not in power. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Paul speaks from experience. From his own weakness. But through his weakness the power of the Spirit is released so that he can do the work he has been sent to do.
It was unthinkable to the Jews that human sacrifice would bring about the saving of anyone, certainly not the Hebrew people. This is the foolishness that Paul is addressing. The folly of Christ crucified. And I must say at times it does seem mind boggling. I want to say couldn’t this have come about some other way? Did Jesus have to go through such ignoble humiliation and horrible death? The death of Christ can be a stumbling block to ourselves sometimes as well as the Jews who wanted not this kind of weak, powerless messiah, but a capital M Messiah who would wield an army, conquer their Roman oppressors and set them free, saving them at last, from the exile and save them to be able to worship Yahweh as they believed they were meant to, rather than give tribute to the pagan power of their Roman oppressors. Yet irony of irony again that it would be their Roman oppressors who would hand Jesus over to the religious authorities to execute, so that this thing called salvation could be realized for all.
In Lent we make our march through the wilderness, up the Appian Way, to place we would rather not go. To a scene we would rather not see. To a foolishness we would rather not witness. Even though that scene on the cross-laden hill hovers over all that Paul preaches, its foolishness is God’s foolishness for us. The foolishness of love. The foolishness of a pierce heart reaching out to the world to remind us that no price too high, no cost too dear, in order to gather us all together to that one heart, one community, one Body of Christ.