The Foolish Context of Love
If there is a day for foolishness, this is it. The fact that Maundy Thursday and April Fool’s Day coincide presents a unique opportunity to talk about a perspective that speaks to this unique convergence.
Paul writes these words to the Corinthians:
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day. — (1 Corinthians 4:8-13)
My experience is that throughout the world, there are images of Jesus and the apostles as royalty and conquerors in art and stained glass. Of course, there are also images of their suffering, but I know from my travels and studies that images of royalty (especially in protestant churches) far outweigh the images of suffering.
Perhaps this is because talk of brokenness and suffering is hard stuff. It is difficult to think of ourselves as both royalty and fools at the same time. It is hard to have any kind of real wisdom outside the liminal space of suffering and death. This is the liminal space of unknowing that leads us to a greater wisdom beyond mere cognition.
The Corinthians made the mistake of confusing the two. When Paul says, “We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ,” he is not affirming the great wisdom of the Corinthians, much as they might have hoped. He is chiding them for claiming to have such wisdom without having given themselves wholly to the task of discipleship, which invariably leads us to being a “spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals.” It often leads to suffering and brokenness, even as Paul describes here.
Today is Maundy Thursday (which Wellspring is combining into one commemoration with Good Friday scheduled for tomorrow evening). As Jesus gathered with his disciples, their confidence in everything they thought they knew about Jesus was either coming into question or was completely falling apart.
Much earlier in the gospel accounts, as they had stopped along the way at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus had asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter named it: Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”
As soon as he spoke that, however, Jesus began to talk about his journey to Jerusalem where he would suffer at the hands of religious and political authorities and be killed. Peter would simply have none of that, and Jesus rebuked him telling him, “Get behind me, Satan.”
Jesus both affirmed him and then called him Satan for thinking that being “the Christ” is somehow incompatible with suffering and death.
Now it is Thursday of Holy Week, and they are in Jerusalem gathered in an upper room. Jesus begins to lead them through a ritual of brokenness and death as he deviates from the Passover ritual. He uses the seder elements to talk about his own broken body and shed blood. He then takes up the basin and towel, girds himself like a slave, and washes the disciples feet. To those who wanted a conquering messiah, this is folly.
Paul is right. If we follow Christ down this road, we will likely be seen as “fools for the sake of Christ.”
The meaning of Maundy Thursday, however, cannot escape us. The word “Maundy” is taken from the Latin word “maundatum,” which is “commandment.”
What is this commandment associated with Maundy Thursday? It is found in John 13:34-35 where Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
You see, when we love as Christ loves … when we love our enemies … when we forgive those who harm us … when we love through our suffering and beyond our brokenness … when we love in such a way as to blame no one … then we will be thought fools for the sake of Christ.
When we learn this new commandment, we will then discover that the folly of love then becomes the only way to see beyond the cross.
Radical Loving Christ, teach us the foolish way of love that we might transform the world. Amen.