We continue our journey through Lent with a new approach to Lectio Divina that I call Lectio Divina Diligens. Click on the link to read about this idea, if you’re not familiar with it.
Today let’s look at the second reading for the Third Sunday in Lent: the Epistle Reading, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25.
Lectio — reading
Brothers and sisters: Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Investigatio — research
Once again, I’ve decided to see what one of my favorite New Testament scholars, N. T. Wright, has to say about this passage. Let’s begin with his translation of it, found in his book Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians:
Jews look for signs, you see, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we announce the crucified Messiah, a scandal to Jews and folly to Greeks, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, the Messiah—God’s power and God’s wisdom. God’s folly is wiser than humans, you see, and God’s weakness is stronger than humans.
Before I even get into the commentary, I think it’s important to point out that St. Paul is speaking of “Jews,” “Greeks” and “Gentiles” in broadly metaphorical ways. He could just as easily have said “Some people want a miracle, and others want careful logic, but we have chosen to follow a person — Jesus, the Messiah.” We should be careful not to assume that this passage is making some sort of definitive statement about how Jews and Greeks are different.
In fact, what makes the most sense is to look at how the desire for a sign and the desire for wisdom are, in effect, the same desire: a desire for something abstract upon which a person can stake his or her world-view. “I believe in miracles” or “I believe in reason” might be ways that some people choose to organize their lives: I know I’ve encountered plenty of people who would fall in one or the other of these categories.
But by “proclaiming Christ crucified,” the apostle is announcing a faith that rests not on the earthly lust for certainty, but rather on something over which we have very little control: love. “Love this crucified man, Jesus,” Paul is saying, knowing that some people will dismiss that as foolishness, and others will just keep bumping into their own objections.
Back to Verbum (the application I use for Bible study and scripture commentary), I’ve taken a look at another favorite resource, the Collegeville Bible Commentary.
Since the cross does not follow human reason, it is an obstacle, a scandal, a stumbling block… Conventional wisdom, in the light of the gospel, becomes foolishness… And the folly of the cross that confounds the wise, empowers the foolish for salvation. Paul describes himself and those who are in Christ as “fools” and “weak” on Christ’s account, and for the sake of the community… belief in Jesus is regarded by the gospel Paul preaches as the greatest wisdom. God’s folly is wiser than all human wisdom. Not only is the “weakness” of God more powerful than all human strength, but God’s strength supplies for all human weakness. (Paul uses a metaphor here because, of course, God is in no sense “weak.”)
So this is a passage that turns everything upside down. Who in their right mind would follow a “failed” messiah, who was executed as a common criminal by the authorities? That’s foolish! Paul, however, seems to relish in this. Of course it is foolish: at least in human terms. Stop trying to make sense of it, or fit it into your preconceived notions of what kind of wonders a messiah should perform. With Jesus, all the rules are broken. What we call foolish reveals God’s wisdom. What we call weak points to God’s strength. Are you ready to listen to what Jesus himself has to say, and stop over-analyzing just how “scandalous” his death seems to be to you?
Meditatio — reflection
My wife and I are kind of a microcosm of Saint Paul’s “Jews and Greeks” metaphor. She loves miracle stories — books about people who have near-death experiences, or who have otherworldly encounters with angels. I, on the other hand, am more interested in reading philosophy or theology. I don’t think this has anything to do with ethnicity (or gender, or education level, or any other kind of delineation). Frankly, I think it’s a personality issue: some of us naturally want to experience wonder and amazement, and others would rather reason things out. And I think many of us are a blend of the two (truth be told, I love a good story about signs and wonders myself).
But Saint Paul challenges us to step out beyond the ways we judge the world we live in. “Seeing is believing” or “Prove it” are, ultimately, statements we make to assert control over our life circumstances. Saint Paul says, there’s more to life than meets the eye — or satisfies the mind. Choose love rather than reason or experience. Choose a person — Christ — to put your faith in, rather than something wonderful or logical.
When we love, we do not feel entirely in control. And that’s a good thing. Saying “yes” to the love of God means radically letting go of our need to be right, or to be convinced. It means stepping into the “cloud of unknowing” and the “dark night of the soul.” Stepping into that radical uncertainty allows us to orient our lives, not toward “wisdom” or “wonders” but toward faith — and specifically, faith in Christ, who ultimately is both the source and the object of our love.
Oratio — response
Christ, I have a hard time letting go of my desire to be in control. I want to manage everything — even my faith. I want it to make perfect sense to me, and I want it to feel “certain” because it has the aroma or miracles around it. But these things, ultimately, are idolatrous, whenever I put my trust in them instead of you. Help me to be more generous in trusting you. Teach me to hold on to you when there is no “sign” and to remain faithful even when the path you lead me on makes no sense. Help me to find my way in the dark. I can’t do it without you.
Contemplatio — rest
Please join with me at a time that is appropriate for you, to simply rest in the silent presence of God, knowing that God loves you and me and all creation — whether we can feel it or not.
This is the fourth of a series of Lenten devotional posts, written in a spirit of Lectio Divina Diligens — lectio divina (sacred, meditative reading) combined with a contemplative, “diligent” approach to scriptural interpretation. Research into the interpretation of scripture is performed using Verbum.
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