March 15, 2009
The Power of Weakness
What images come to mind when you think of "the cross"? Do you think of favorite piece of jewelry? Do you have a piece of artwork in you home . . . a beautiful collection of crosses you've picked up in your travels? As I read and researched our passage today, I have a better, more concise understanding of the symbolic meaning of our cross.
In my systematic theology class, I was taught about symbols. A wedding ring symbolizes a lifelong commitment. A disturbing symbol that comes to mind is the swastika. It is not the design of the swastika that causes a reaction; it's the horror that is associated with it.
A symbol is something whose meaning points beyond itself. The horrific crucifixion of Jesus was not inconsequential. The harsh realities of betrayal, deceit, unjust actions and unexplainable loss of life are everyday occurrences. Jesus offers us, through his death and resurrection, Gods redeeming power and forgiveness. We are reminded to embrace humanity knowing the grace, trust and hope Jesus demonstrates on the cross. The resurrection is a reminder that Jesus is never too far.
God staged the ultimate revelation to the world, and Jesus was the agent of change. And yet, there were those who refused to see it that way, and this created a division within the church amongst the Jews and the Gentiles.
The promise of eternal life as a result of the cruxification was perceived as foolish by the Greeks and inadequate in the Jewish understanding of God's promises. For Paul, death and resurrection demonstrated the power of God, but for the Greeks it demonstrated the weakness of Jesus!
From the highly evolved minds of the Greeks, who worshiped knowledge and philosophy, where was the wisdom in following a movement whereby its leader, its Messiah, its Lord, was hanging on a cross?
Crucifixion was a common form of execution during the Roman occupation . . . primarily for political prisoners. There was nothing humane about this manner of capital punishment. A modern autopsy would confirm the cause of death as suffocation from the weight of the body caving in on itself, rendering the sufferer a slow, painful and humiliating death. Suspended from a cross, the dead were put on display to remind people what their fate would be if they so much as challenged the masses to revolt against the Roman authorities. So, in the eyes and minds of the disbelieving Greeks, Jews and Gentiles, this was complete and utter foolishness. Yet, the "rulers of the old age asserted their maximum power by putting Jesus to death . . . only to face the fact that their worst was too weak to counter the power of the God of Israel who raised Jesus from the dead."
Jesus disarmed all earthly notions of power.
The Greeks idolized philosophy (which means "the love of wisdom"), but philosophy is invented by man's opinions. W.B. Yeats once said, "If we have trouble expressing our loving nature, our priority must be to remove the barriers. One of those barriers is our belief in the overriding importance of our intelligence. Intelligence is like good looks; they are both unearned. God does not evaluate us of the basis of how intelligent we are."
Paul reminds the Corinthians, wisdom never cured the corruption of the world. God's "foolishness" is far superior to the exalted views we have of ourselves.
Where has our best thinking landed us? In concentration camps? Rioting in the streets of Los Angeles? Committing act of genocide? Being so convinced we are right, that we attempt to justify speaking hatefully to others. Why do we allow our egos to dictate our behavior?
Do you trust your judgment or do you trust God's judgment? Divine authority remains consistent; it is reliable and complete in and of itself.
Our wealth and priorities are dictated by God's supreme order, not the DOW or NASDAQ . . . as we are all well aware. Our stewardship conveys our generosity and compassion not our boasting of personal victories and conquests. Our best communication is not retrieved on a computer screen or via the internet; it is through honest, sincere face-to-face dialogue.
Our marriages and broken relationship are not always remedied by therapist, best sellers or Oprah; they are salvaged by God's grace and our willingness to own our character defects and then humbly asking God to remove them.
How we instill integrity in our children is not by private schools or an Ivy League education; it is by serving as an example to our children and showing them that we embrace our faith.
We are taught to support the needs of those who are retired and as we witness the decline of people's health to provide them with comfort and compassion not disrespect and disregard.
Our power comes through our own humility and vulnerability. There is no shame in being human. You see, this is the great paradox of God's existence. What looks powerful to the five senses has no power. What the five senses view as non-powerful has all the power. This is exactly how the Divine intervenes in our lives.
You may never know the impact Clothe-A-Child may have on one person. You may never hear anything about how one family was able to sustain itself, because of the dimes and quarters your children or grandchildren place in our bucket for the Heifer project. You can be an agent of change and never even know it.
The most seemingly insignificant, ordinary, degrading occurrences are often the most powerful, life-altering, and transforming glimpses into God's purposes. Nothing powerful and no one powerful would be born in a manger. Perhaps the obstacles you encounter which seem foolish and a waste of your precious time will have a divine impact that you can't even begin to imagine.
Thanks be to God. AMEN.