The Irony at the Heart of the Universe
In the first chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, Saint Paul opens a window through which to behold the mystery of the cross. “The preaching of the cross is to them that [are] perish[ing], foolishness; but unto us which are [being] saved, it is the power of God.” We must understand why Paul calls it “foolishness.” It is not hard: the cross shows a bare man, impaled on a beam of wood, nails piercing the nerves in his wrists, another nail through his feet, hanging in the heat of exposure to the sun, not far above ground. People walk by. Some of them know that it was claimed that this man was the Son of God. But God has the power to make everything—which is to say, God can do anything. Is it not foolish to think that the Son of God would be unable to get out of such pain? “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross!”
Before the sun set on that fateful day he was dead. His body was entombed. His corpse, as we say, achieved room temperature. But then a question mark appeared upon this claim of foolishness. Early on the Sunday morning, some women were surprised by something they could not “process”: they found his tomb empty.
He turned out to be outside, in the garden. He was, later, on the road to Emmaus. He was suddenly with the Eleven when they were cowering behind closed doors. He was on the road to Damascus in the form of a light that blinded his persecutor Saul. He was on a mountaintop. He was taken by his Father to his right hand.
The Father’s vindication of his Son is why the word of the cross is, for us who are being saved, "the power of God." The word of the cross tells us that God’s power is a hidden power. It was hidden in Jesus’ weakness. And sometimes God has chosen to hide it in our own weakness.
What Saint Paul is onto here is the irony that God has planted in the center of the universe. Paul captures the irony at verses 25 and following: "the foolishness of God is wiser than men: and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world . . . God hath chosen the weak things of the world . . . and base things . . . and things which are despised." Dear reader, Paul means you and me! We are living exhibits of God’s way of working through weakness. Does God work through foolish, weak, low, despised persons? Well, here we are: Exhibit A!
These thoughts are especially on my mind as I perceive the growing advocacy of euthanasia, for startling instance in Canada, but also in parts of the U.S. and other western countries. We Christians, if we are courageous enough to resist this, are going to seem foolish to the world.
Foolishness, however, is our historical posture. Christian foolishness was noted by ancient Rome in Christians’ refusal to expose their children, that is, to abandon them to die if they were defective. Christians have loved people even when they were in very bad shape, even when the world would say that it is better to leave such people to die. The world says, Why feed, why give hope, to someone whose life is a burden? The calculus of the world—in the first century, in the twentieth, and now in the twenty-first—is that there are lives not worth living. How foolish to resist that calculus!
And yet, in Rome, in Calcutta, time and again it is the despised class of society, the people reckoned as untouchable, who are the first to grasp the word of the cross. Jesus’ death on the cross, described in our liturgy as the one “full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction,” lifts humankind to our true glory. The dead come to life. This is the ironic truth at the heart of the world, the word of the cross, and may it give each one of us hope in every day that is to come.
Out & About. Sunday, February 5, I am to preach at the contemporary services at Incarnation in Dallas; they are at 9 and 11:15 a.m.
The next Good Books & Good Talk seminar will be Sunday, February 19, on A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. I want to underline this again, because it’s important: Don’t see the film—read the book. The conversation will run from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
On the Web. On the Covenant blog of The Living Church I got to reflect on the death of Pope Benedict XVI; the controversy over Pope Francis’s homily reminded me of what I learned as a baby priest that preaching at a funeral should aim to do. You can read “Summing Up Benedict XVI” here:https://covenant.livingchurch.org/2023/01/19/summing-up-benedict-xvi/