Third Sunday of Lent

The Foolishness of the Cross

First Reading : ( Ex 20:1-17 ) : The Ten Commandments
Second Reading : ( 1 Cor 1:22-25 ) : Jesus is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles
Gospel : ( Jn 2:13-25 ) : Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem
Chinese Classics:
-“Bad fortune promotes the good; good fortune gives rise to the bad”.(1)
-“Way of the Mean” (2)

For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor 1:22-25 )

This verse in the bible is full of contradictions and opposing thoughts. Actually, Jesus himself is a symbol of contradiction. On the 40th day after his birth, when Jesus was presented in the Temple, Simeon uttered this prophecy, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed ” ( Lk 2:34 ) Those closest to Jesus also would face a similar fate, a fate destined for contradiction and opposition. Hence Simeon said to his mother “the inner thoughts of many will be revealed and a sword will pierce your own soul too ”( Lk 2:35 )

Because Christ is a symbol of opposition, so the cross too has become a symbol of contradiction. Before we discuss our faith in Christ, let us look at some realities in our own lives. Do those with ideals encounter more difficulties? Are those who stand up for their own principles in greater danger? Are those who speak and act differently than their peers more likely to be ostracized by them? Is someone who dares to speak out against persons in power be more likely to be condemned?

Christ became a sign of contradiction to people because he was different from others: his thinking, his values, his behavior were different from the people of his time, especially that of the rich and powerful. The God whom Jesus preached was different from the god of other religious groups. The religion Jesus had in mind was not the religion of others of his time: his standard of morality and ethics was different from others also.

If life is so full of contradictions, then Christians often must find a balance between two extremes, and find unity among the contradictions. This is what Confucius referred to as “the Way of the Mean”.(2) “Mean” does not mean to stand in the middle, with an undecided or lukewarm attitude. “Mean” means to find a right balance and achieve equilibrium between two extremes.

Lao Tzu once said, “Bad fortune promotes the good; good fortune gives rise to the bad. (1)” What Lao Tzu meant is that there is no absolute standard for good and bad fortune. It is quite possible that the two are interchangeable. Underlying bad fortune may be something good; within good fortune, there may be something harmful. Everything comes full circle. When people have reached the heights, they may easily fall. We often see this phenomenon in everyday life.

Even more vividly in religious lives, we can see elements of the two extremes and contradictions: heaven and earth, present life and the life to come, spirit and matter, soul and body, active and passive, belief in oneself and belief in God. Sometimes there seem to be elements of two extremes, and we must find a balance. These are the two “legs” of our faith, and we must walk with both legs. We must develop the two legs together, simultaneously balancing them, not one bigger or stronger than the other.

However, the objective fact is that in the actual life of the Church, different people hold different dispositions towards the two elements. For example, some emphasize present life more than future life, others choose the spiritual over the material. Or on the contrary, some people believe in the present life only, and don't believe in any kind of future life. They emphasize material satisfaction only, and neglect the spiritual altogether.

Yet the contradiction of the cross goes much deeper than that. Because the cross bears contradiction within its very self and contains within itself the two extremes. The cross itself is the greatest contradiction. When Christians look upon the cross and the figure of Christ on it, we see right in his dead body the resurrected Christ - not just resurrection after death, but the very affirmation of resurrection in the midst of death. We believe that the Christ who died actually lives now among us.

By living such a theology, we affirm the value of this world, present life, matter, our bodies, and at the same time reaffirm the value of heaven, life after death, spirit and soul. We must rely on ourselves and at the same time trust in God, and in living in God trust ourselves. In other words, because we firmly believe in heaven, life after death, spirit and soul, we, even more than other people, affirm the world, present life, our bodies and material things. We live out our faith in our actual living, and through our faith, elevate our concrete lives. This is the contradiction of the cross.

The Jews looked for a God who always conquered; the Greeks believed God was so high above us that if he died on the cross, he could not be a saving God. To them, the Christ on the cross was the most foolish among the foolish.

What about ourselves? What kind of Christ is the Christ in whom we believe?

(1)禍兮福之所倚,福兮禍之所伏。
(2)中庸之道。