How the mighty will fall

One of my favorite passages from Scripture is from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Here, Paul declares that he did not come with any strange teaching, but he brought Christ crucified, “a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.” The scandal and foolishness of it all was that while people needed proof, or knowledge in order to get ahead, God chose to undermine them by putting forward the weakness of Christ crucified to challenge them all. What this meant for the Christians of Corinth, many of whom were ex-slaves, was that Christ’s coming would subvert the “baggage” they brought with them when they became Christians. One of these was the need to gain prestige and privilege in a society where the risk of being cast aside for merely being a slave was real. (This is of course something I learned from John Lanci’s interesting introduction to biblical exegesis, Text, Rocks, and Talk.)

We celebrate Easter today, the triumph of the Lamb forever slain over the forces of sin and death. But we witness too how, in many ways, we are undermining the liberating message of the Gospel. We do this not only by what we do but also by what we do not do. We refuse to see how the Cross of Christ puts everything under suspicion, including our priorities and our need to seek power in whatever form. Martin Luther King, Jr., chose to renounce violence and confront the powers, and thus became a source of scandal. (I will shortly post a sermon by a friend of mine for Martin Luther King Day.) He suffered the consequences, but we honor him precisely because he put the powers that be under suspicion.

So Christians should take heed. While we should be wise as serpents and meek as lambs when it comes to dealing with the “world,” we must be wary of letting the priorities of the world set our priorities. Not that it is wrong to raise money by seeking benefactors, for that is the way the world works, but that it is wrong to assume that as a consequence we can conveniently lay aside the strong words of Christ:

“A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them,‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.'” (Lk 22:24-27)

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