On Wednesday, my Mum turned 90. It was a delight to take her out to lunch, with some other members of the family. Then, of course, the Thursday was the first of March – here in Australia, it is the first day of the season of Autumn.
A change of seasons is a good chance to pause and reflect. There have been lots of opportunities anyway, lately, as it is Lent – one of the Church’s major seasons of reflection. This year, as I have been saying in my preaching, I am choosing to sit in the midst of my wilderness, and experience it.
In one of the Bible Studies this week, someone spoke of the change to autumn as a positive thing for Lent – a slowing down of the busy-ness, as summer ends and things around the Peninsula return to “normal”, and the oppressiveness of the heat eases. Autumn always seems, to me, a gentle season. There are still longish evenings, and beautiful sunlight – coming from a steeper angle. The gusty winds of summer begin to quieten, and there is less risk of bushfire – although that has not entirely gone.
Yet, so far, my Lenten reflections have been fare from gentle. Jesus is challenging me this year – even more than other years! This week’s readings once again dialogue with one another.
The Hebrew Scripture reading, from Exodus 20, gives us the Commandments from God, which were such a blessing to the Israelites, then and now. There is nothing at all about them which has ever been diminished. Most people on Earth would still acknowledge the Ten Commandments to be a wise and healthy way for a community to live.
The psalm responds with appropriate joy, hailing God’s wisdom and love in giving such Law as a gift. Think about a history and a world without the Ten Commandments! Humanity would be diminished.
The gospel passage describes Jesus’ dramatic “Cleansing” of the Temple – his drive and passion to bring the people back to a right and proper worship of God.
But best of all – that beautiful passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, regarding the message about the cross. I’ve decided to put it here for you to read.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
I often have to read it more than once, to try to comprehend – but the beauty and mystery of it is profound. The message of the Crucified God is an enigma. In some ways, it cannot and should not be fully understood. How can God be crucified? How can God die? It is a “nonsense, pointing nowhere”, as Brian Arthur Wren says in his hymn: “Here Hangs a Man Discarded.” (TiS 356), which we normally sing on Good Friday. It is a stumbling block to Jews, because for them, a hanged person is cursed. The Greek word for “stumbling block” is scandalon, from which the English word “scandal” is derived. It is something which stands in the way of people’s understanding. Greek wisdom cannot understand this reversal of common sense.
Certainly, when Jesus was nailed to the cross, and lifted up, he was literally helpless. He was totally vulnerable and without power. Yet, paradoxically, it is this image which has become one of the most powerful in the history of humanity.
Perhaps for now, it is just to be contemplated, this image which has fascinated people for 20 centuries. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
I think, somehow, it comforts me in my wilderness.