Mark 16:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I had attended a meeting of the Anthony Wayne clergy group, where one young man told me about his tattoos. At that same meeting, another pastor commented on how, this year, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fell on the same day, and now we have the same thing happening with Easter and April Fools Day. His tone was rather ominous, and he suggested that this was a bad thing. Then he added, “Maybe Satan had something to do with it.”
Maybe he was joking, but I reject the idea that Satan can be given any credit for our odd calendar this year because it was decided almost 1700 years ago at the Council of Nicea that the date of Easter would be set each year according to when the 1st full moon after the spring equinox occurs. And we know from Genesis that it was God who created the moon, along with the sun and stars, not just to separate the day from the night but to mark signs and seasons and days and years. So, if anyone should get the credit for this, it should be God.
But, however it happened, I also reject the idea that Easter and April Fools falling on the same day is a bad thing. In fact, it may be a very good thing. Because it brings us face to face with the truth that Paul speaks of in his letter to the Corinthians: that the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the salvation that he brings, are the revelation of God’s wisdom, however foolish they seem to an unbelieving world.
Paul was writing to the Christians in Corinth. Corinth was a prosperous city, mainly because it was a major center for trade. It was made up of very wealthy people and very poor people, Greeks and Romans, business owners and retired military. Corinth was home to the followers of many Greek, Egyptian, and Roman religions. In fact, archaeologists have found the remains of more than two dozen temples—one of them called “a temple for all gods.” In addition to all these religions, there were also a variety of philosophies that the Corinthians followed.
In a society where it was very important to attain honor and status, being a teacher of a religion or a philosophy was a good way to get it. The more skillful a teacher was at public speaking, and the more persuasive his arguments were, the more honor he was given and the wiser he was thought to be. So, when Paul talks about worldly wisdom, he’s also talking about worldly power. The Corinthians had to contend with this outside and inside the church, because (unlike Las Vegas) what happens in the world rarely stays in the world and outside the church. What had been handed down to the Corinthians about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was in constant competition with all these other kinds of “popular wisdom.”
To those who didn’t believe, the story of Jesus sounded like complete foolishness. It sounded stupid. Paul’s Greek word for foolishness sounds very much like our word for “moron.” And why wouldn’t it sound foolish? For the Jews, it was foolish because the Messiah they were for looking for would be a political savior, and Jesus was anything but that. Resurrection was an event that would occur for all of Israel in the end time, not something that would happen to one man who claimed to be the Son of God. It was foolishness to the Greeks and the Romans, who believed that gods couldn’t be hurt and couldn’t be changed and certainly couldn’t die, so a broken and bleeding and eventually dead human being couldn’t possibly be a god.
It was foolishness to anyone who understood the nature of the cross—and that would have been everyone. Everyone knew that the cross was the ultimate emblem of shame—an implement of torture and capital punishment reserved for low-born criminals and enemies of the state. To those who didn’t believe, to say that someone executed on a cross was God in human form, who would save the world from its sin, was just crazy talk. It was foolishness.
It wasn’t just the residents of Corinth who responded this way. The disciples did, too, on that first Easter morning. In Luke’s telling of the resurrection story, a whole group of women went to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body, and there they learned that Jesus was alive. But when Mary Magdalene, along with Joanna, and the other Mary, and all the others who had followed Jesus from Galilee, told the disciples what had happened, do you know what the disciples’ response was? Luke says, “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
Maybe the fear that Mark tells us the women felt was not so much a fear of the angel and the message that he gave them, but a fear that they wouldn’t be believed. Maybe their fear was that they would be brushed off as foolish, as stupid, as morons. Maybe they were afraid that their experience would be discounted as meaningless or assumed to be a figment of their overwrought feminine imagination. Maybe that’s why, according to Mark, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
That’s where our passage and the most ancient versions of this Scripture end. But there is a longer ending that was added later. That longer ending says that Jesus, who hadn’t appeared to the women at the tomb, later appeared to Mary, and she went to tell all those who were mourning his death what she had seen. Their reaction, according to Mark? “When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by Mary, they would not believe it.” If the women’s fear was that they wouldn’t be believed, it was a well-founded fear.
Fear can keep us from telling the good news of the resurrection because the message of the cross is still thought by many to be foolishness. Human wisdom says it is foolish to believe in a Savior who refused to use his remarkable abilities to increase his own popularity and power. It’s foolish to believe in a king who attached himself not to the rich and the famous and the well-connected but to the poor and the sick and the rejected. It’s foolish to believe that a man who would allow himself to be executed as a criminal in the most shameful way possible could be the Son of God. According to the wisdom of the world, it’s foolish to believe, with no physical evidence whatsoever, that this man died and rose again, and that in some mysterious way, his death and resurrection freed us from the power of sin and death. According to human wisdom, it would be foolish to believe that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”
Paul doesn’t reject outright the value of all worldly wisdom. God has given us the gift of minds that can question and create and learn and teach. it would be sinful not to use that gift in God-honoring and life-giving ways. Our Methodist tradition encourages life-long learning. We are expected to use the traditions of the church and our experience of the world and the insights that art and the social and physical sciences give us to understand the meaning of Scripture for us in our time. But Paul reminds us that human wisdom is limited. Too often, what passes for human wisdom is merely smoke and mirrors, offered by those who speak persuasively, with an eye toward increasing their own popularity and power, as was so common in ancient Corinth. But as God said through the prophet Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
God’s wisdom is so great that if there were any foolishness in God, it would be wiser than human wisdom. If there were any weakness in God, it would be stronger than human strength. God is wise enough and strong enough to use the most lowly and plain-spoken to teach those with power and the gift of gab. God uses the weak to show the powerful what real power is. God uses those people whom the world counts as nothing to expose those the world counts as something.
God’s wisdom is so great that God can use the foolishness of serious illness to show the world what commitment in relationships looks like, or to prepare a middle-aged daughter to hear a call to ministry. God uses the foolishness of violence to move children to do what their elders will not. God uses the foolishness of hatred and prejudice to raise up leaders who work for justice for all people. God uses the foolishness of a tiny church to feed the hungry and care for children and families not their own.
If human wisdom says that it’s foolish to believe that God is the source of our life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, then let me have a heart foolish enough to believe it. Let me have a heart foolish enough to believe that Jesus came to show the world how much God loves us. Give me a heart foolish enough to believe that Jesus accepted death on a cross to reveal the true nature of hatred and violence and refused to return it, and in his death defeated the power of sin. Let me have a heart foolish enough to believe that in Jesus’ resurrection, God assured us that death has no power over us and we need no longer fear the grave. If believing all that is foolish then, O Lord, let me have a foolish heart always!
To those who have not seen the Lord—the resurrected, living Christ, what we celebrate today is utter foolishness. But I say, let us claim this day as our own in the name of our Risen Lord. Let us rejoice in God’s wisdom—the wisdom that turns the foolishness of the cross into victory over sin. Let us rejoice in God’s wisdom, which turns the foolishness of death into life everlasting. Alleluia! Amen.
~~ Pastor Carol Williams-Young