Third Sunday of Lent: Wisdom and Power



            This week I would like to concentrate on the second reading from 1 Corinthians 1:22-25:

The Jews demand signs and the  Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.


            In Hebrew scripture we come upon numerous times that prophets, patriarchs, judges and others demand signs from God.  For example, in Judges 6, we hear how God delivered his people from the power of their enemy, Midian.  The people of Israel had sinned against God, so God let Midian make their lives miserable.  Every spring and summer, the people would plant their crops and raise their animals. Every fall the armies of Midian would overwhelm the Hebrews, steal their crops and animals, and leave them near starvation for the winter.  The people finally cried to God for help.  God picked one of the least of the people, the last son of the most insignificant family of the most insignificant tribe of Israel.  He picked Gideon to save them.  “The Lord is with you, O Champion,” the Angel of the Lord says to Gideon.  “Prove it,” replies Gideon.  “Give me a sign that God has chosen me.” Gideon is told to cut up a kid, a baby goat, and put some flour on a rock.  After he does this, the Angel of the Lord touches the meat and flour with his walking staff, and fire goes from the staff and consumes the meat and flour.  Now you would think this is enough to convince Gideon, and it was for a little while, but after Gideon is told to raise and army and defeat the enemies of Israel, he sought another sign.  This time he calls on the Angel of God and tells him what he wants the angel to do: he tells him that he would put a woolen fleece on the threshing floor and wait until the dawn.  If the fleece is wet with dew and the floor is dry, that would be a sign for him.  Well, that is exactly what happened, but Gideon still wasn’t satisfied.  He wanted a third sign: this time he told the angel that he would put the fleece on the threshing floor and wait until dawn, and if the fleece remained dry but the floor was wet with dew, that would be a sign for him.  That took place, and Gideon went on to lead the army of Israel against the Midianites and put Bibles in hotel and motel rooms.


            This is just one example of a Jew looking for a sign of God’s presence and work.  Moses did this, and Elijah, Elisha, and so many others. Jesus Himself performed signs to help the people believe. The Gospel of John calls the changing of water into wine at Cana, the healing of the official’s servant, and other miracles of the Lord, signs of God’s presence.  But after the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord, a new sign took precedence over all other signs, the new sign was the Power of the Cross.  This sign a complete paradox.  Christ’s power was seen in His absolute submission to the Father’s will, in His absolute weakness. Human beings tortured Him and murdered Him.  In the eyes of these humans, if Christ had power He should have come down from the cross and destroyed his enemies, but God called Him to conquer a bigger game, a stronger enemy than mere human power.  He was called to destroy the power of evil, to destroy the devil’s hold on the world.  By dying, by embracing what humans saw as weakness, Jesus unleashed the greatest power the world has ever seen, the power of Sacrificial Love, the Power of the Cross.  For, as St. Paul says, “The weakness of God is stronger than human strength.


            Now the Greeks liked to philosophize, liked to debate.  They were intellectually arrogant and self-absorbed, not unlike many of the so-called intellectuals of our society. The ancient Greeks looked down on those not trained in the famous schools of Parmenides, Heraclitis, Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle. When Paul went to Athens, he challenged them with philosophical arguments to convince them about Christ. But as soon as he spoke about Jesus’ death and resurrection, they dismissed Him as a fool and walked away.  They were looking for wisdom, but on their own terms, according to their own concept of what wisdom should be.  It was inconceivable to them to think that wisdom could be found in totally submitting onself to the will of God.  That was foolish to them.  But, as St. Paul wrote, the foolishness of God is wiser than all human wisdom. 


            I was thinking about this regarding Blessed John Paul.  In his book, Witness to Hope, George Weigel presents the pope as he was, a philosopher, a Catholic  phenomenologist.  As a young priest he loved having intellectual discussions with college students as well as the great minds of his day.  This continued throughout his life. But John Paul II was so much more than a philosopher.  He was a man of simple faith in God.  His secretary and closest associate, the man who shared his ministry for forty years was the now Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz (Shevits).  Cardinal Dziwisz recently published a book called My Life with Karol, in which he speaks about the pope’s day.  He would get up at 5:30, wash up and pray privately until 7:00 am when he would celebrate Mass.  After breakfast he would write notes, homilies, books, meet with various people, but always in the context of one overwhelming prayer.  If he ever visited any place and learned that the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, he stopped everything to spend at least a half hour on his knees.  He said his liturgy of the hours, rosary, and was often found laying on his face in prayer.  Blessed John Paul’s wisdom did not flow from his intellect, it flowed from his faith.  Again, the foolishness of God is wiser than all human wisdom.


            So many times we make the mistakes that the Jews and Greeks of the second reading made.  We look for signs.  “Lord, give me a sign of what I should do, what school I should go to, who I should marry, what career I should embrace. Give me a sign to know if I should send my child to this high school or that one.  Give me a sign if we should move or not, etc. etc.  I don’t need anything too major–maybe just a word or two in my alphabet soup: Go here, do that.”    Or we look to our own intellects, and we are satisfied with just rationalizing a choice.  This is all bogus.  The sign that we have is the sign of Christ crucified.  The wisdom that we need is the wisdom of God.  When we have to make a decision, we need to reflect on Christ on the Cross.  We need to reflect on sacrificial love, and how we can best apply His love in our lives. Instead of worrying about our wants, we have to consider another’s needs and how our decision can best bring God’s love to another.


                        And we have to have the courage and humility to put up with people calling us fools, whether they do this to our face, or, usually, behind our backs.  “So, you are going to have another baby, how foolish.” “So, you are going to skimp to put your child in a private school, how foolish.” “So, you are going to shelve your own dream that your child will go to an elite school, because for her or him public education is the best fit, how foolish.” “So, you are going to be the only one in school, at work, in the neighborhood, who is not living for his or her own pleasure, how foolish.” “So, you are going to be the perpetual designated driver and conscience for your friends, how foolish.” “So, you are going to wait until marriage, how foolish.” “So, you are going to be honest with others in these difficult economic times when every cent counts, how foolish.”  

            If sacrificial love means that we are foolish in the eyes of other people, so be it.


            For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,

                     and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.