Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:17-31
Cross has become the central symbol of Christianity. Just imagine a visitor walking into one of our Churches for Sunday worship. He is greeted by an usher with a pew slip which has a symbol of “Cross” as the theme. He sits on a pew and gazes at the altar closely; there he sees the symbol of cross on the stained glass. A person with a cross on the lapel of his suit comes and sits next to him. The worship starts; the choir starts singing the opening hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross.” During the service there is the dedication of a child, the priest takes the child and says, “We have received this child into the congregation of Christ’s flock and makes the sign of the cross over the child.” When the priest pronounces the benediction, he traces the sign of the cross in the air with his hand. The stranger leaves the Church asking himself, do Christians exaggerate the Cross or do they boast in the Cross?
As we prepare ourselves to enter the season of Lent this month, I would like to focus on “Cross of Christ.” The Corinthian Christians boasted on their wisdom instead of boasting in the Cross of Christ. The sophists always gloried in the gift of speech and had great influence on the community and even the Corinthian Christians were imitating them. Due to debating, quarrelling and arrogance, the new faith of the Corinthian Christians was disintegrating and it was also because of human cleverness.
I am thankful to God and the leadership of the Bible Society of India for giving me an opportunity to visit Greece on an official assignment. Visiting Greece, gave me immense joy because of its Theological, Biblical and Ecclesiastical significance. The City of Corinth is known to readers of the New Testament for the letters addressed to its Christian community by Apostle Paul.
Looking at the backdrop, Apostle Paul was thoroughly convinced that social problems have theological roots and I love him for that as he addresses the same with the Christological affirmations in the New Testament; the death and the resurrection of Christ. Paul launches into a discourse on reconciliation using the Greek style on debate. He starts with preposition, opposition and concludes with resolution. Paul clearly states his motto that he has been sent not to baptize but to ‘gospelize’, and that’s his preposition. In other words, in all that we do the Cross of Christ should not be made void. In contrary, the Christians in Corinth, the cross of Christ was emptied by the eloquent bewitching brilliance and humanistic philosophy. Sophist’s philosopher Protogorus elevated ‘man as the measure of all things’ and taught that individuals are not responsible to any transcendent moral authority for their actions. For them public speaking or rhetoric became an end in itself. Paul says that the Corinthian Church was guilty of the same sin. The preaching of the Word was to please men and to tickle their ears and the Church in Corinth was going the same way as Sophists. Today, our Christian theology, Church and the Scripture become relevant to the challenges of the modern world only when they reveal their identity with the crucified Christ. At times sophisticated theology and politically correct rhetoric has negated the heart of the Gospel about crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. In the words of Scottish Theologian Pete Forsai, “the Church rests in the Cross of Christ, if we move faith from that centre; we have driven the nail into the Church’s coffin.”
Paul, scoops out two pairs of contrasting concepts to make his point.
- The word of wisdom and the word of the Cross.
Paul uses wisdom in four senses – too bad and too good. The Greek word Sophia occurs 13 times in 15 verses and 20 times throughout the epistle. Paul here rejects the manipulative manner of speaking and the deceptive way of thinking. He focuses on the word of the Cross which is both God’s plan of salvation and Christ whom Paul describes as the Wisdom of God. The Wisdom of the Cross is also Wisdom on the Cross. Those who consider themselves ‘wise’ reject this; reject God’s wisdom as foolishness and the word foolishness is where we get our word ‘Moran’. Paul uses six times in these few verses.
Paul contrasts human foolishness versus Divine foolishness. Paul uses the word ‘Kerygma’ it is not just the content what we preach but the very act of preaching. Today, it is not merely the doctrine of the Cross but even the institution of preaching that is derived and dismissed as irrelevant and absolute. God makes wisdom foolish by making foolishness into wisdom. It is with sadness I say that the Cross has never been nor will ever be popular in our context. In our days, it is an offense to the secular liberal sentiment. It was foolishness to the Greeks and scandalous to the Jews. They anticipated a triumphant Messiah and a crucified Messiah was a contradiction to their expectations.
- Those who are perishing and those who are being saved.
For Paul salvation is past, present and future. We have been saved from the penalty of sin and saved every day from the power of sin and one day we will be saved from the presence of sin. Salvation is both – individuals becoming new creatures in Christ and the universal order becoming a new creation in Christ. Paul asks three rhetoric questions:
- Where is the wise man?
- Where is the Scribe?
- Where is the debater of the age?
Paul quotes from three verses in the Old Testament, Isaiah, Psalms and again Isaiah, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever, I will set aside.” Where Greeks ask for wisdom, Jews ask for a sign and the modern world looks for gimmicks. Paul is committed to preach Christ crucified because he thoroughly understood that Christ alone has become our righteousness, sanctification and redemption and no one can dare to boast in their merits. The social structure of Corinth was reversed by the Cross of Christ. It was the foolishness of the world that were called to shame the wise and the weak to shame the strong. Paul resonates from Jeremiah while he resolutely points out, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” The cross is the greatest leveler in all of human history. We are all equal at the foot of the Cross. As Bishop Temple said, “My worth is what I am worth to God and that is the great marvelous deal for Christ died for me.” Only the preaching of the Cross of Christ can heal the fragmented world as it healed the Corinthian Church.
So, what do we boast in? Is it really the Cross of Christ? Is there something else in our lives, in our Churches, organizations that risk becoming the substitute for the Cross?
If the above said visitor were to visit our homes, Churches and organizations, would the visitor be convinced that we boast in nothing, except the Cross of Christ?
Quite often, we all stand at the cross-roads of momentous decision making, what will we do? Many years ago, a good friend of mine told me, “When you come to the cross-roads of life take the CROSS-ROAD. The road marked by the CROSS. Let’s take the road, less travelled and that will make all the difference. May God bless us all. Amen.
Rev. Sudhakara Raju,
Manager – (Department of Church, Public Relations & Resource Mobilisation)