From this morning’s readings:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong… ( 1:18-27, RSV)
I always find this passage challenging and encouraging. I find it challenging because I am a pretty rational person, and was attracted to Catholicism because it is based on solid philosophical and theological assumptions. These verses remind us that no matter how well we explain the faith, or think we understand it, there are always going to be elements to our belief that will come across to outsiders as either scandalous or absurd or both. The crucifixion of Jesus is scandalous and absurd, by worldly standards. Modern pundits even poke fun of it. We shouldn’t be surprised, because the same happened in Paul’s day. I find this passage encouraging because it reminds us that Christ himself is God’s power and wisdom. Our faith truly is sacramental and incarnational, because it is ultimately about a person, not a system of principles. The principles, philosophy, etc, that result are based on the person of Jesus. This is why I don’t think an enlightenment-style Christianity works, because there are elements of Christianity that are foolish when analyzed from a purely rational perspective. We Catholics and Orthodox have a word for this: mystery. This is why we speak of becoming a Catholic as a type of initiation; the process is more than just learning a few principles, and giving an intellectual consent. Initiation implies partaking of a mystery that can be partially grasped, but not fully understood.