The Word of the CrossFr. Barnabas Powell
“Father, give us a word.” The young men sat in the cell of the holy elder and longed to hear his wisdom for their lives. As the elder spoke, the men’s hearts burned with joy and revelation. The elder then turned and asked each one of the young men what they thought about what he had said. And, in turn, they all spoke about what they thought the elder meant when he spoke. Finally, it was time for a quiet companion of these pilgrims to speak. Throughout the visit, he had said nothing. He had remained silent as all the other brothers spoke. So, the elder turned his gaze to this young man and pressed him to say what he thought. A minute of uncomfortable silence engulfed his companions, and then the young man spoke: “Abba, it is enough for me to see you.” With that, the elder smiled.
There is a long and venerable tradition of asking wise elders for “a word.” This has become so common in monastic practice that it has become part of the lexicon of spiritual pilgrims everywhere. What a powerful phrase: “Give us a word.” And that power flows from the origin of words themselves: “In the beginning, God said…” and then in St. John’s Gospel we read that Jesus Christ is the Word of God. So when God speaks, He is revealing His Son to us all.
Look at our lesson today in 1 Corinthians 1:18-24:
BRETHREN, 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.
St. Paul confronts the Corinthians with the unavoidable truth. The message of the Christian Faith is simply never going to be compatible or comfortable to those who don’t want it. And there is no amount of linguistic artwork or philosophical redefinitions that is going to fix that. In fact, every attempt to make the message of the Faith “comfortable” ends up abandoning the Christian Faith. It’s never going to work. And the reason for that is because at the center of the story of the Christian Faith the Hero dies a horrible death on a cross. There’s just no way of escaping that “ugly” truth.
Paul goes on to say that the Jews “demand a sign.” Sure, you remember when the High priest and other Jewish leaders were standing around the cross as the Lord was crucified. They taunted Him with this false promise: If He is the Son of God, let Him come down from the cross and we will believe in Him. All through His ministry before the cross, the Lord confronted the Jews with their constant demands for “signs” that He had authority or He was the Messiah. The Lord said to them that they would only get one sign; the sign of Jonah. And sure enough, the Lord was in the tomb as Jonah had been in the whale’s belly. But the Lord defeated death by His resurrection.
Then we are told that the Greeks, these were the Pagan Greeks of the Lord’s day who prided themselves on their centuries of philosophy and learning, and the Greeks considered the “word of the cross” to be folly or foolishness. Of course. To an educated person, the claim that a defeated and publically humiliated Teacher would be a good role model for living was absurd. Better to follow the philosophy of the successful and the victorious. To follow a murdered teacher was silly to the pagan Greeks of the Lord’s day. They trusted their philosophy to make them complete.
But the “word of the cross” is God’s response to our foolish insecurities and our undeserved pride. It is the cross that looks foolish to the world gripped by the fear of death, but that is the true wisdom of God in the end. The truth is God’s answer to us today is the cross. To our pride – the cross. To our spiritual lethargy – the cross. To our fears and doubts – the cross. To our false confidence – the cross! The “word of the cross” is God’s wisdom to us.
Today, are you ready to hear the “word of the cross?” Are you struggling with the incompatibility of the Faith with our modern society? The answer is the cross. We will never escape the dead end of the world without Christ without the precious wood of the cross. It’s the cross that kills all that is sick in humanity, and after the cross comes the resurrection. Thank God for the cross!