March 15, 2009

Weakness, Foolishness, and Shame

This week's New Testament passage is from St. Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth (1 Cor 1:22-25). It is comforting, in a strange way, to know that the church back then didn't always "get" Jesus either. Jesus was "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles".

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the Jews "desired strength working miracles and saw weakness suffering". (Aquinas, 13-19) Jesus worked miracles. He commanded demons, outwitted Pharisees, calmed storms - raised the dead! They probably asked the same questions, silently, that were asked of Jesus aloud. Why let this happen? Why suffer when the Son of God could just come down from the cross?

The Gentiles found it "against the nature of human reason that God should die and... voluntarily expose himself to a very shameful death." (Aquinas, 13-19) The Greeks are known, to this day, for their contributions to philosophy. Plato was a powerful thinking, and the Greeks likely expected Jesus to be a flawless thinker. He was, of course, but not in the strictly human terms the Greeks were expecting. Why would someone accept a shameful death on the cross when they could avoid it? How could a god (the God) die? It doesn't seem to be logical.

St. Paul tells us that "the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." Why be weak when you can be strong? Why suffer when you can prevent it? Why die when you can live? In hindsight, and by the grace of God, we know the answers to those questions. Jesus Himself is the answer. What seems to be weakness is incredible spiritual strength. What seems submissive is really mighty. To die is to conquer death.

To truly live - to live as God made us, intended us - is to die to our sinful, fallen natures. We must pass through Lent to reach Easter. We must pass through the dark night of death to reach the dawn of new life.

Aquinas, St. Thomas. Commentary by St. Thoms Aquinas on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Tr. Fabian Larcher O.P. Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal, Ave Maria University. (accessed March 15, 2009).

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