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4th sunday in ordinary time

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

The Wisdom of Foolishness

Naming

Shortly after God put the man in the garden to cultivate it, God decided that the man should not live alone. God brought every living creature before the man to see if any one would be a suitable helper. The man was also responsible for assigning a name to each of the creatures. Ever since that first roll call, humanity has sought to understand the environment in which we live by assigning names not only to every living and non-living thing but also to their behavior and characteristics. Western civilization often employs the Greek and Latin terms associated with the entity or behavior. For example:

γραφω (grapho) - letter (graphics)

ἄγγελος - angel,

βιβλιον – Bible

βιο – life (bio+logy, study of life)

At the turn of the century the psychologist, Henry Goddard decided to give labels or names to the different levels of intelligence as determined by the Binet Intelligence Test or what we now call the IQ test. The Binet scale had four very unflattering labels to denote a persons level of intelligence. People who score between 0-25 were labeled “idiotic” and those between 26-50 “imbecile”. Goddard used the Greek μορια to describe those whose IQ range from 51-70. Transliterated the term is moron. It is the term that Paul uses five times in this morning passage and is translated foolishness.

This may sound a little harsh but Paul is saying essentially that to the secularized and religious world, God looks like a moron. I am not referring to the Hallmark greeting card god. That god has been stripped, sanitized, and sentimentalized into a harmless, neutered spirit. That god is harmless because he or she is powerless. That god watches the unraveling of human history from a safe distance, expressing concern and empathy but never really getting involved.

Paul is referring to the God of the ancient Scriptures; who offered an old man and an old woman the foolish promise of a son; who told the people of Israel to abandon the security of Egypt for the foolish promise of their own land; who sent a shepherd boy foolishly into battle against the mighty warrior Goliath and then appointed that foolish inexperienced young man king of Israel. Paul is also referring to the God who sent his one and only son into the fray of human existence, exposed to the pain and suffering of human existence, vulnerable to human authority and power, and subject to the limitation of fleshly existence. Neither the Jews nor the Greeks could understand that sort of God. His methods seemed all wrong.

The Jews expected the messiah to adhere to the religious traditions and conform to time honored rules. Jesus appeared to go out of his way to break their norms and trample upon their religious laws. They thought that the Messiah would duplicate the miracles of Elijah. Jesus refused to preform for them. He did not come to entertain them so he refused to perform miracles in their presence.

In the rock opera Jesus Christ, Superstar, Pilate has sent Jesus to King Herod for trial. The king has heard rumors about Jesus and is excited for the opportunity to meet him. He first asks Jesus change his water into wine then he request that Jesus “walk across my swimming pool.” The composition really caught our “God on demand” expectation. His refusal to display his power and authority went contrary to cultural wisdom. Superstars are supposed to thirst for more than 15 minutes of fame. They are supposed to seek the spotlight, the center of everyone’s attention. Jesus refused. He did not have to prove himself to anyone.

The method of Jesus’ death also shattered good conventional Jewish wisdom. Prophets often faced the threat of death but none them them were hung for a crime. Such punishment was probably reserved for only the most heinous crimes. The book of Deuteronomy states that anyone who dies by being hung on a tree is cursed by God. Why would God chose have the Messiah die by such a method? It just defied all common sense.

The methods that God used to present his son also baffled the Greeks of Paul’s day. The philosophers had moved beyond the polytheistic folklore. They may have used the names of Zeus, Aphrodite, Apollo and other gods but they did not believe that they actually existed. The philosophers’ argued that for god to be God he/she must be above human feelings. They argued that if God could feel human emotions, then a human must have influenced God and is therefore greater than God. God not only would not feel human love, hate, or anger; God would also not feel the sting of a whip, the pain of a nail and most certainly not die a bloody death.

One philosopher also declared that we insulted God by even suggesting his involvement in human affairs. The idea of the incarnation in which God takes on human flesh seemed ludicrous. God was considered good and beautiful. If God became a part of the material world then God would change from good to bad, from beautiful to ugly, and from happiness to sadness. God would never accept such a change, making the incarnation an absurd impossibility.

Both the Jew and the Greek considered the message to be nonsense. They also could not understand the people God chose. While we do not have a complete description of the congregations at Corinth, Paul gives us a hint of the people that were part of the body. In vs 26 Paul writes “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” This brief sentence suggests two very important characteristics of the church. First, the church had people from many different walks of life. Some were influential citizens and some were not. Some were of noble birth and some were probably free. Some were educated while others could not read the most basic Greek letters. The gospel cut across social and economic conditions. It was not just for the intellectually elite. The philosophers of Paul’s day would not have understood this. They believed that a person could not understand truth, obtain knowledge and acquire wisdom without years of extensive training. More importantly, they could not comprehend why any educated person, any person of social or political standing, would want to associated with the general public. The church in Corinth offended people because it consisted of rich and poor, educated and non-educated, free and slave all worshiping together. This just did not make sense to the Greeks and made even less sense to the Jews who were always conducting purity tests to determine if a person was religiously safe.

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Crossroads Presbyterian Church
1445 Welch Rd
Walled Lake MI 48390


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