Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Scandal and Folly

Popular Translation

22 Some people want signs from God that will amaze them. Others want thoughts and feelings from God to make them feel good. 23 But we talk about Jesus who died on the cross. The people who look for God's signs think that's shocking. And, the people who want good thoughts and feelings think that's worthless. 24 But, to the people who God called to believe, the sight of Jesus on the cross clearly shows God's power and wisdom. 25 God's foolishness is far better than our wisdom. And God's weakness is far stronger than our strength.

Literal Translation

22 For Jews request signs and Greeks seem wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ having been crucified, to the Jews, on the one hand, a scandal, to the Gentiles, on the other hand, foolishness, 24 but to those called (by God), Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God (is) stronger than men.

1:23 "to the Gentiles" is literally "to the nations." Both phrases referred to non-Jews. Since the universal language and culture at the time were Greek, Paul used the terms "Gentile" and "Greek" interchangeably.

1:25 "foolishness" in Greek is literally "moron."

Paul addressed the community at Corinth that was torn apart with infighting. Various cliques formed factions represented by teachers: Paul, Apollos, Peter, even Christ himself. (1:12) In typical Greek fashion for the time, the Gentile groups appealed to their teacher for wisdom. The Jewish Christian groups appealed to the outward charism (i.e., speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, etc.) of the their teacher. In these few verses, Paul must have felt he was in the midst of a cultural war! The practical Jews said, "Show me!" But philosophic Greeks said, "Enlighten me!"

Paul answered these factions with a greater principle, a greater vision. Their new faith was more than heavenly signs or divine insight. Faith was doing God's will. God gave his Son a mission. Gather everyone and prepare them for the Kingdom. The Church was established to continue that mission. Those who focused on signs or wisdom simply wanted to be fed. So, Paul implicitly asked: "When will you come together and feed others?"

Paul showed the selfish a mirror that could show shame or glory. That mirror was the image of Christ crucified. While believers have looked on the crucifix as the sign of God's love and have meditated on the cross for insight, they should also look upon the image of the dead Master through pagan eyes. Jesus died a shameful death, a loser's death. When a Jew became a believer, he or she scandalized their family and community. Soon they were ejected from their place and treated as if they never existed. In the popular culture, Gentiles believers joined a fool's religion. (In fact, the earliest image of the crucifix was graffiti. It had the picture of a slave worshiping a crucified man on a cross. But the dead man had the head of an ass. The inscription read, "Alexander worships his God.") Whether the cross was shame or glory depended upon one's point of view: popular culture's or God's.

On the surface, Paul used the image of the crucifix as the "power of God" (for signs) and the "wisdom of God" (for enlightenment). But, in the context of First Corinthians, he used the image as a rallying point for unity. To become one in mind and heart. To become one in purpose and outreach. After all, God has only one purpose for the Church, even in his weakness or folly.

True believers are willing to become "fools for Christ." When have you risked your reputation for your faith? When have others criticized you for being a Christian? What happened? How did your folly make you a better Christian?