1:18 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. 19 For it is written,
1:20 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? 21 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. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For Gods foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and Gods weakness is stronger than human strength. (NRSV)
One doesn't normally think of such a Pauline text as having an apocalyptic orientation. Yet the notion is not new, nor even unique. In her fascinating book, The Cross and Human Transformation: Paul's Apocalyptic Word in 1 Corinthians, Alexandra R. Brown makes quite a case for Paul's apocalyptic word of the cross as an "empowering word of liberation, peace, and reconciliation" for a divided Corinthian community.
From my point of view, this text provides its own apocalyptic interpretive
key at the very beginning. Its theological center is Christ crucified--the
substance of Paul's "message" to those cantankerous Corinthians.
How is the message of Christ crucified apocalyptic? To the perishing
(reading Paul apocalyptically, one might say those of "this present
age") Christ crucified talk is foolishness and weakness. Yet to us
who are "being saved" (again, apocalyptically, those of "the
age to come"), it's the power and wisdom of God. Note the perishing
and the saved are not static entities, but in process (are perishing
and being saved). The books are still open and every human commitment,
whether to this age or the next, is still part of the equation--chiefly
because God's grace remains an open possibility even for the perishing!
Consequently, both its present foolishness/weakness and its future urgency
are part and parcel of the Pauline "message" of Christ crucified.
Accordingly, Paul tries to prove his assertion about the message of
Christ crucified not by making logical points or pointing to demonstrative
miracles and signs, but by asking First Church Corinth to reflect on themselves.
After all, their powerlessness and foolishness prove the very point Paul
makes through the cross. When this age passes, we who in this world are
"nothings" only look forward to being something. Besides,
God will turn into nothing everything which this age proclaims as something:
e.g., power or wisdom.
So here's the upshot for First Church Corinth: why bother boasting?
why bother splitting into proud factions? We are the nothings of this
world. So if we boast, we boast in this age's foolish, powerless one,
the same one whom we proclaim as Lord of us who are being saved: Christ
The problem is, we've all got enough power to prove our point. Every
faction in Christendom can assert its claim to truth because it has power
behind it. Take the church growth folk, for example. They use charts
and graphs to prove their point. To them rising membership quotas demonstrate
their Gospel truth. Still other Christians point to the bottom line. If
churches are wealthy, established--certainly that proves their claim!
Still others highlight an unbroken line of tradition, giving power to
impose truth from the top down. "As it was and ever shall be,"
they intone righteously. Looks like we've little incentive to give up
on our truth claims. We each have enough power to demonstrate our hold
But what's God's answer to truth and power, whether at First Church
Corinth or closer to home in North America?: Christ on the cross.
God's idea of incontrovertible proof is Christ crucified. Of course, our
world is skeptical. In our world the power of the cross is like that old
algebra problem you learned in school. Remember that nonsense equation?
After factoring out all the letters and common numbers, you're left with
algebraic nonsense: 1=0! But hold it! Perhaps the zero half of that crazy
algebra equation is right. With Christ, after all, every human
claim to absolute truth and proof through power is laid bare and shown
to be nothing, zilch, zero. Think about it! The truth of tradition won't
hold up. For didn't the religious leaders use tradition to accuse our
Lord? And the truth of the educated elite doesn't survive the cross either.
After all, it was the erudite Roman upper class who sentenced our Lord
to die. And as for the truth claims of those who play the church numbers
game? Well, who do you suppose shouted for our Lord's blood but the
crowds! Truth is Christ crucified knocks the pedestal out from under
every human claim to absolute truth and power. They're shown for what
they are: sham powers not worthy of our divided allegiance. Any claims
to absolute truth or power are laid to rest beneath the cross. This is
God's answer to our feeble attempts at monopolizing truth or power: Christ
Well, we church folk should have seen it coming. Like the Corinthians,
we should have known better. How does Paul put it?
So here's the question for the church: why bother with proud factionalism? None of us--none really amounts to much in this world. So if we boast, let us brag on this age's foolish, powerless one: Christ crucified. And that way, when we do boast, at least we can do so...together.
|Several other apocalyptic lectionary texts are treated in my book, Preaching in the New Creation: The Promise of New Testament Apocalyptic Texts (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999).|
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