I shared this homily with my faith community earlier this week. The message and Way of the Cross, from 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31. Fitting for today, this Friday that is as Good as it gets. Just in case any of the rest of you are interested…
Wow, the message of the cross in an 8-10 minute homily. They don’t make it easy on us preachers during Holy Week. Well, let’s give it a shot.
When I was a young kid, I loved the story of Peter Rabbit. Still do actually, and I have forced my kids to love it as well. It was probably because I was a lot like Peter, mischievous and ornery, stubborn and troublesome. And I loved it so much that I remember having dreams that I lived with a rabbit family in the cozy nook of their tree-root home. Getting tucked into bed on the dirt floor, next to the warmth of my sibling rabbits, having just eaten blackberries and drunk some chamomile tea, I recall having the warmest, most comfortable feeling as I remembered the dream the next morning. I belonged. I was not actually a bunny in the dream. I was myself. Though different, I had a home, an alternate reality that was filled with love.
Please excuse my attempts at armchair psychoanalysis, but I believe this was one of my first glimpses into the new creation of God, the alternate reality our Lord invites us into, the message of the Cross. I did not realize it at the time, of course, and I really did not need an escape from a bad home life – in fact I was deeply loved and cared for, much like Mother Rabbit cared for Peter and his siblings – yet what I saw was this different world where everyone belonged, no matter how different rabbits and human boys were. And I wanted more of it. Still do.
And here in Paul’s first letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul invites us to see a different reality, another world that is possible. In fact, more than possible, it is a reality that is more real than the world as we often see and experience it. Paul’s rabbit home is found through the message, the word, the logos, of the Cross. And it is the power and wisdom of God to us who are being saved, but foolishness to those who are perishing.
We see here that Paul separates our realities into two distinctly different experiences. Both are ongoing. They are simultaneous. Neither has culminated in any sort of finality. They contrast and contradict one another in ways that make them utterly incompatible. We are confronted in our own existence by these two realities. And it is the message of the Cross that ushers us into the decision room, one door to foolishness and death, the other door to power and wisdom and life.
Paul writes this letter to the people of Corinth, hitting them with the contradictory and confrontational message of the Cross right from the start. Corinth, the ancient Greek city destroyed by Rome, rebuilt by Julius Caesar, and established anew as a colony for freed slaves and other poor folk. There was no middle class, a few rich people at the top with most among the poor at the bottom, revealing the steep social pyramid among which the Corinthian church existed. And the Corinthian believers were not immune from the quarrels, factions, debates, and so-called wisdom of the world that came with the deep consciousness of status in one’s society. The passage right before this one shows Paul challenging the divisions in their church, and we see that much of it came from their chasing after the wisdom of the world, a wisdom that would supposedly bring them great success, accomplishment, and status. Foolishness, Paul proclaims. The world does not know God through the wisdom of the world. Chasing after the world’s ways of belonging, through education or careers or connections or status through wordly things and associations. Foolishness. This way is the way of those who are perishing.
The true way to God is through the message of the Cross. God’s ultimate sign that what humans reject, God chooses as God’s very own. The Cross. This form of capital punishment, the electric chair or 3-part drug in a needle injected not in a small chamber but in the middle of Heritage Square or on our front lawn, for all the world to see. The Cross. To shame and humiliate, to demean and dehumanize the executed. The Cross. A sign to the world that the imperial power of Rome and all those who align with them should not be messed with. The Cross. Rejection, humiliation, powerlessness. Utter folly that this Cross could be anything but just that. Foolishness. No way could the Cross usher God’s people into the new creation. God is wise. God is strong. God is…
But the foolish are those of us who think we know who God is and what God does and how God should look and act and be in our world, associating God with worldly wisdom and wealth and prestige. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. And God chooses what is foolish, weak, low and despised, rejected by our world, to shame those who are wise, strong, elite, and accepted. God chooses what we reject and makes them God’s very own.
Consider the leader of our faith, Jesus the Galilean. A Galilean Jew. A person among a people rejected, in an unknown region of the world, populated by a despised mix of races, cultures, and religious identities. Scorned as Jews by the Gentiles, looked down upon by the Jews as impure, God came to us through a people of multiple rejection. Here in this place and these people, God continued the scandalous story of God’s way of salvation. Foolishness! Nothing good comes from Galilee.
Consider the Cross. How Jesus the Galilean got there. The Way of the Cross. This message, the Word that was with God, that is God, the Word that is Love. Consider Jesus’s life, for we are called, chosen to follow his lead. Born to humble beginnings, from a lineage of pagans and prostitutes, slaves and shepherds. Belonging to a despised people – the ignorant and insignificant of the world. Inviting a ragtag group of fishermen and loose women and tax collectors to follow him as he touches the untouchables, dines with sinners, hangs among the disabled and disfigured, travels and teaches among the lowly people of Galilee, even Samaria. All the while revealing the truth that what the world has rejected, God chooses. Confronting Jerusalem, the strong and powerful, the wise and accepted. Despised ones, chosen. Foolishness! To those who are perishing. The power and wisdom of God for those being saved.
Being saved and chosen, called to solidarity with those who suffer, to acceptance among the rejected, to scorn the shame of the despised. The message of the Cross. Foolishness. Yet among the oppressed, called by God, we are all chosen not just to bring comfort to those suffering from rejection, but empowered to confront, transcend, and transform whatever in oppressor society diminishes and destroys the fundamental dignity of human nature, a hero of mine Virgilio Elizondo proclaims. And he continues to truthtell, “It is through the ignorant and powerless that salvation will come to the learned and powerful of this world.”
Consider our own calling today. This message of the Cross. How the foolishness of God confronts our own follies as we chase after the world. Education. Status. Wealth. How our groups, our institutions, our systems, what we find to make us feel accepted, yes even sometimes our life as the Church, are foolishness and lead us into the reality of those who are perishing.
But we have been given a picture of another reality, a glimpse into the new creation. Out of death comes life. The message of the Cross. In God’s weakness, we find strength. In God’s foolishness, we find wisdom. In what the world rejects, we find God. We discover the new reality, this new creation, our new joy of being, where no one is rejected, there is no status or distinction, where all are truly one. In our differences, we belong. And it is beautiful.
May we gladly heed our calling, know we are chosen among the rejected, to follow the Way of the Cross in solidarity with those who suffer, living life among the despised, and confronting the world’s foolish, death-dealing ways with another Way. And may the message of the Cross be the power and wisdom of God for those of us who are being saved.