I remember when I was a little boy, one of the ways my mates and I would jockey for position and status on the playground at
Even when my dad isn’t trying, my dad’s feeblest efforts would blow your dad out of the water. Playgrounds are merciless places, aren’t they? You need to invoke supernatural protection just to survive, let alone to stay on top. If you need status in a hurry, you inflate the claims of the strongest thing you’re associated with. ‘Well my footy team could bash your footy team any day of the week!’ I mean, who barracks for the Dockers?
There’s only one trouble with this sort of logic, isn’t there? It’s actually really hard to keep winning this way – there’s always someone stronger comes along, someone with more status, more power. You’re only on top five minutes before you get the tap on the shoulder.
But isn’t this what
You see, like my mates and me on the playground at Wilson Park, the Church that
In many ways, though, we are really fortunate the
And in his letter to the Corinthians St Paul confronts head-on the things that divide them, using a favourite ancient debating method, pushing the argument to its absurd conclusion, pulling apart the opposite extremes until we are forced to see what lies in the middle. The basic issue, as it probably always is, is status, power, who gets to call the shots? Elsewhere,
Now wisdom is actually a buzz word for the Corinthians, and in fact for the whole of the ancient Greek-speaking world. The word itself, wisdom or in Greek, Sophia, comes from the intellectual fashion of the time, the philosophy of the Stoics and the Platonists. Wisdom was what connected the human world to the divine world, wisdom was what enabled human beings to see the true meaning of things. And wisdom was primarily revealed in the skill of rhetoric, the skill of the debater. Now on one level this is just like saying the Corinthians were really impressed by cleverness, and the cleverest among them thought they should be running the show – on another level the issue of wisdom for the Corinthians is like us being really impressed by a Microsoft systems engineer or a financial expert from Westpac. Wisdom was the cutting edge intellectual technology of the day, and the Corinthians were really impressed by it. They were impressed by technique, and they were impressed by those who claimed to have special or hidden knowledge. Paul’s basic point is that believing the right doctrine about God is not the same thing as being in the right relationship with God, which is a relationship of trust and dependence. For churches today who insist on members signing up to a series of ideas and beliefs about God, about the right way to read the Bible or the right belief about the end times, or who insist on talking in tongues as evidence of spiritual maturity, or for churches like ours that tear themselves apart with arguments between conservative and liberal theologians, this is really important. This preoccupation with human knowing, Paul claims, twists Christian living out of shape. God himself cuts the ground from under our feet, and he does it with the foolishness, and the absurd weakness, of the cross.
You see, the cross is embarrassing. Our Bible translation calls it a ‘stumbling block’ to Jews who expected the one anointed by God to be gloriously successful, and the Greek word that this translates is skandalon. It’s a scandal. The very idea that the twisted and ugly shape of a human being tortured to death could represent human salvation. The Corinthian Christians know what Paul is talking about. This wouldn’t have been the easiest part of the Christian faith to sell to the sophisticated metropolitan inhabitants of their world! To them it’s just foolishness. It’s God choosing to come to us not in strength but in weakness, not the sort of weakness that’s still strong enough to bash us up with one finger, but the sort of weakness that is vulnerable enough to suffer when we reject it, the sort of weakness that allows itself to get pushed aside and crucified. Over and over. God’s power is not the sort of power that human beings preoccupied with status and competition readily understand –God’s power which is made perfect in human weakness and vulnerability is relational power - the power to transform human lives by love broken and poured out for all. God’s wisdom is the wisdom of understanding that only by risking ourselves to one another in vulnerability and trust can we be healed and whole.
So what does this mean for us, this Lent? Like the Corinthians, we live in a world that isn’t cruciform – the structures and values of our world are shaped not by the cross but by the desire for status and privilege, by competition for position and resources. Our relationships are unconsciously fashioned by the need to protect our own interests. We find the wisdom of God and the power of God confronting because we recognise in it the challenge to give up some of our assumptions about our own wisdom, our own claims to have our lives and our religion worked out. We find it confronting because we recognise correctly that self-sacrificing love means giving up on being defensive, giving up on being right. The cross means putting all our eggs in one basket, taking the risk of trusting God and one another with the future.
Rather a lot to give up for Lent.