The Foolishness of God

2021-03-07 Lent 3
Download PDF • 140KB

March 7, 2021 / 3rd Sunday in Lent / Richard Holmer

1st Reading Exodus 20:1-17 / 2nd Reading 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 / Gospel John 2:13-22

The Foolishness of God

God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:25

So wrote St. Paul to the Christians at Corinth. What is meant by “the foolishness of God”? It could refer to how the ways of God are perceived from a worldly point of view. From that perspective, God has done any number of foolish things:

  • God created human beings with the capacity to think for themselves and make their own decisions. Humans are thus able to disobey God, and even to ignore God altogether. How’s that working?

  • When God’s people defied God and even worshiped other gods – God repeatedly gave them another chance.

  • God chose to enter into this world as a vulnerable, mortal human – and not as a person with privilege and status, but as a humble peasant. Paul speaks of this foolishness in the letter to the Philippians: When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. (Philippians 2:6-8 from The Message)

  • God allowed his beloved Son to suffer and to die a miserable death at the hands of sinners – a death that certainly could have been avoided.

  • And then what did God do after raising Jesus from the dead? God sent Jesus back to the very ones who had denied him – who failed him in the moment of crisis! God sent him not to punish or seek revenge – but to speak peace and to forgive. Where is the sense in that?

  • Subsequently, the entire mission and ministry of Jesus is entrusted to the same group of a dozen ordinary, mostly uneducated men who had already demonstrated their unreliability.

  • And how is this ministry extended in the world? By giving the baptismal promises of forgiveness and eternal life to infant humans who have done nothing to deserve it, who as yet don’t even know or believe in God! It’s preposterous!

  • And what happens to those Christians when they come to believe in God? We keep right on sinning – on a regular basis! And what does God do? God keeps forgiving us! Utter foolishness.

And there’s more . . .

The foolishness of God is quite evident in the teaching and preaching of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says things like this: Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who are persecuted. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek, too. When someone asks you for something, give it to him – and don’t ask for it back. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Jesus directs his followers to deny themselves, to lose their lives in order to find them. Jesus tells the story of a father whose son insists on receiving his inheritance while his father is still alive – essentially he tells his father to drop dead! And what does his father do? He gives it to him! The son proceeds to squander all the money in loose living. When the son drags his worthless self back home – the father gives him new clothes and throws a party. That’s crazy!

Another time Jesus tells of a landowner who pays the laborers who worked one hour the same as those who worked all day – and those slackers get paid first! How unfair! Where’s the wisdom in that?

In one of his Christmas sermons, Martin Luther pondered the ways of God from a human point of view. Here is what he said:

God puts a Babe in a crib. Our common sense revolts and says, “Could not God have saved the world some other way?” I would not have sent an angel. I would simply have called in the devil and said, “Let my people go.” The Christian faith is foolishness. It says that God can do anything and yet makes him so weak that either his Son had no power and wisdom or else the whole story is made up. Surely the God who in the beginning said: “Let there be light,” “Let there be a firmament,” “Let the dry land appear,” could have said to the devil, “Give me back my people, my Christians.” God does not even send an angel to take the devil by the nose. He sends, as it were, an earthworm lying in weakness, helpless without his mother, and he suffers him to be nailed to a cross. The devil says, “I will judge him.” So spoke Caiaphas and Pilate, “He is nothing but a carpenter,” and then in his weakness and infirmity he crunches the devil’s back and alters the whole world.

God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

What’s the message? What’s the point?

For starters, it confirms what God said through his prophet Isaiah: My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. Which is pretty much what we heard Jesus say to Peter last Sunday when Peter tried to talk Jesus out of going to Jerusalem, where he would be killed: “Peter, you’re thinking like everyone else, not like God.”

+ + + +

What Paul is saying about God’s foolishness is that the gospel of Christ is not practical advice, it’s not common sense, it’s not a philosophy. The gospel is the revelation of the radical, life changing love of God. The gospel is not the product of any kind of human wisdom. No human would have conceived of a story where the Son of God comes to save the world and ends up dying on a cross between two thieves.

In the eyes of the world, Christ on the cross is deeply offensive, awful to behold – and evidence of weakness and failure. For nearly three centuries, the cross was not used in Christian art or as a symbol for Christ. Early Christian art often portrayed Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Even for believers, the cross was a difficult image. Nevertheless, St. Paul has it exactly right: Christ crucified is the crowning revelation of God. It’s where God meets us. Christ’s death and resurrection is the turning point in human history. God’s way of saving us is through self-sacrifice and vicarious suffering.

This is the foolishness of God:

“For the sake of the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider, then, him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” Hebrews 12:2-7

For love to be genuine and powerful and redemptive, it must endure the worst that people can do and yet remain true to itself; it must sustain the most shattering defeat and still be love. Ultimately love like that prevails. Seeing how Christ died on the cross was powerful enough to move a pagan Roman centurion to say: “Truly this man was God’s son.”

Salvation doesn’t depend on knowledge or on wisdom – but on faith. The world cannot know God through wisdom or logic. God is revealed through the foolishness of Christ on the cross. By faith we come to trust that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.

+ + + +

The wisdom of this world, the way of this world, is all about the love of power. Get power and you can get your way. When Jesus presented a threat to the powers that be – they chose to kill him. The foolishness of God, the way of Jesus, the message of the cross, is all about the power of love.

Thanks be to God.