The Glory of Christ Crucified

In the scriptures we can learn much from even the very brief passages. Here we have St. Paul’s description of “The Paradox of the Cross”:

01 Good FridayFor 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” (1 Corinthians 1: 22-25).

This reading brings us up sharply against the fact that human beings, no less in Paul's time than in our own, will do just about anything, seek just about any escape route, to avoid looking at the raw reality of Jesus Christ crucified.

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” Stumbling block and foolishness indeed: for to human eyes, the crucified Christ represents not magical power, but powerlessness; not reason and logic, but absurdity. The crucified Christ is God's starkest way of saying to us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways…” (Isaiah 55:8). This is not a message that any one of us likes to hear.

We want our own way

Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor was right: we want miracles, mystification, and authority. We want a God who turns stones into bread, who exercises dominion and power over the kingdoms of this world, whose angels will protect him from dashing his foot against a stone. And we want such a God tailored to our specifications because we want all the stones of our hardships turned into the bread of comfort, we want control over others whenever it suits our purposes, we want to be immune from the consequences of our rash behaviors. All of this makes perfect sense. All of this is “wisdom” as we would have it.

But our thirst for signs and miracles masks a perverse refusal to trust in God and camouflages our contentment with the status quo. For a "sign" of God's presence, a "sign" our minds can encompass and comprehend, would be a guarantee that our God is really understandable in our terms and that we therefore do not need to believe or change very much. Our quest for wisdom is really not a humble search for the inscrutable and tender mercies of a crucified God, but an arrogant and cynical rationalism that would know the price of everything and the value of nothing, a practical sort of speculation that would construct religious systems the demands of which we are prepared to accept. We would rather make our meek adjustments with a God in our image and likeness than face the folly of love that is the Cross.

God’s answers to our questions is Jesus

02 question mark"For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."

God's foolishness and weakness is Christ crucified. Like many Jews of Paul's time who refused to believe in Jesus because he neither fitted nor fulfilled their messianic expectations, we too find the Good News not quite to our liking.

A God who deals fair and square, who rewards the innocent and punishes the guilty, is a God we can keep at arm's length. And like many of the Gentiles of Paul's time, we too turn away from Jesus because his way of thinking is illogical and impractical. Surely, it is not sound fiscal practice to give the same wage to the eleventh-hour worker as to the one who has labored all day. Surely, if I fast, tithe, avoid greed and dishonesty and adultery, I will be, like the Pharisee, more pleasing to God than is the common run of humanity.

What, we ask ourselves, can be stronger than a God who acts like a god, and what can be wiser than a God who reflects back to us our own hard-earned shrewdness? Paul's answer, the Gospel's answer, God's answer is Jesus, the God we cannot keep at arm's length even if we insist on crucifying him.


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