Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
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. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But 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, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Today’s reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is not an easy one to understand. We often quote these words from Paul: “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.” But what do these words really mean?
In Paul’s day, many were expecting the messiah to be a conquering warrior, a great king, a high priest. But Jesus showed up and was none of those things. He didn’t slay armies. He had no coronation ceremony. He made no great sacrifices in the temple (if any). Metaphorically, of course, we say he was warrior, king, and priest—but functionally he was nothing but a failure.
That’s the foolishness Paul is talking about. Jesus didn’t live up to people’s expectations. He subverted them, transcended them, upended them. And to the average person, he was a failure, another prophet with weird teachings who got what was coming to him: execution by the political and religious leaders of the day. He came to conquer death but then he succumbed to the very thing he sought to conquer.
How foolish is that!? That’s not how you win a victory! The wisdom of Paul’s day, and indeed the wisdom of our day, would say that if you want to conquer, you must be strong. If you want to slay, you must be vicious. If you want to succeed, you must be ruthless. Ask any stock broker, tick tock influencer, or general. Nice guys finish last. Loss, failure, death never accomplished anything, did they?
A few years back the expression “love trumps hate” was very popular—so popular that my esteemed and brilliant brother Kyle Sebastian Vitale published a very inciteful article about it (you should read it). It was published eight years ago and in eight years I haven’t been able to get his words out of my head. He writes,
“Love does not ‘trump’ hate. Love infiltrates hate. Love meets hate where it is, hears its vocabularies, and perceives the desire and pain behind it. Love feels the calluses on worn and roughened attitudes. Love responds wholly, and in its patience, transforms hate.”
Love doesn’t trump anything. That’s the message Jesus teaches us. In the gospel there is no conquering, no vanquishing, no crushing. The gospel commits no acts of violence upon anything or anyone—that is the very opposite of love. Rather, love lays itself down even at the feet of its enemies, yes even death. It refuses violence and instead seeks the transformation that comes with empathy, understanding, and compassion.
The foolish message of the cross is just as necessary—and just as foolish—today as it was 2,000 years ago. If our messages of love shut others down, if they seek to lift one group of people above another, if they exclude anyone (yes, even the people who disagree with us) then what we have is not love, but rather a cheap hate masquerading as love.
The foolishness of the cross calls us to lay ourselves down, to embrace the way of the weak so that, in our Christ-like weakness, we might lead a hurting world into the ways of love.
So be foolish, my friends. When the world demands from you wisdom and strength, be foolish.
God of the foolish, we thank you that your wisdom is not our wisdom. Thank you for your transformative love. Help us to lay ourselves down so that we may reflect your transformative love to the world.