Friday, February 04, 2005

"Consider your own call, brothers and sisters..."

Enough politics. Time for consideration of something else.


Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human 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; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

As I mentioned, quoting Ricouer: "Nothing is said about God or about humankind or about their relations that does not first of all reassemble legends and isolated sagas and rearrange them in meaningful sequences so as to constitute a unique story, centered upon a kernel-event, that has both a historical import and a kerygmatic dimension."

Stories of resurrection and special blessings by the gods are rife in the "ancient literature." More than once in the Iliad Zeus debates plucking a warrior from the battlefield to give him immortality rather than death. Jesus was not the only religious figure in and about 1st century Palestine who had followers to claim he had been resurrected. It was a common motif: the "good" man's virtues were proven by this special favor of some deity or deities. But this story, as Paul recognizes, is unique.

Jesus of Nazareth died as a political prisoner. He died in pain and humiliation, the twin purposes of crucifixion, which existed only as a deterrent to other would-be challengers to the power of Rome. What glory is there in that? He died powerless at the hands of the greatest power known in the European world. How to turn that to credit? How to explain his resurrection, if his death was so ignominious, so pointless, so final to the movement he apparently led? How to explain that, except to explain it in terms of the God of Abraham who cared for the widow and the orphan, who gave Israel laws to ensure justice for the poorest, which is always justice for the society? How else to explain it, except to say that while God is in the world, as active in human affairs as the gods of Olympus in the Iliad, God is not of the world; not as vain and petty and capricious and bound by human standards as Homer's gods (Zeus' hand is stayed from saving a warrior because it will diminish his stature in the eyes of the other gods).

How else, in other words, except to appeal to the power of powerlessness? And what is love, ultimately, if not powerlessness, and vulnerability, and foolishness? Who among us behaves wisely out of love? Who among us behaves strongly, out of love? Who among us is protected, out of love?

Love gives us strength, courage, shelter, even power to act. But only after we have been vulnerable, weak, defenseless, and powerless. Love first makes us foolish, in order to make us wise. What the world counts foolish, God can see is wisdom. What the world counts powerful, God sees as puny. Consider the example of Ozymandias; and then, for all it's faults, the example of the Christian church. It is human; it is fallen; it is riven with error and greed and stupidity and mendacity. And yet without it, would we have the hope of the message of love, of the virtues of the gospel?

Would we ever have the chance to imagine that we were chosen, that our foolishness has value, that our weakness is our blessing?

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