1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Recently I heard a news story that sought to explain the re-emergence of illnesses that, while not eradicated, had not had widespread outbreaks in decades due to childhood vaccinations. A community of parents has embraced the idea that the vaccinations cause a variety of lifetime ailments. They would rather risk a normally short-term illness (though they have their own lifetime risks) than chance damage from the inoculation. Despite the research many of these parents cited being fully discredited, they remained convinced of the potential harms. Health care and psychological researchers began to examine why “the facts” actually reinforced the beliefs instead of changing them. They found that the more convinced someone was of an idea directly contradicting/disproving the belief, the more attacked the person felt and the more they clung to the idea with which they were comfortable. Today’s Scriptures have passages that challenge what we know is true and violate the norms we have accepted in society.
The prophet Isaiah puts a twist on the coming Holy One by revealing that he would not only be for Israel, but for the entire world. Despite the challenges Israel regularly posed to God, the prophecy declared that saving them alone is too easy. He also describes this coming one as despised and a slave, yet in the end one to whom the powers (kings and princes) recognize in the correct way and react humbly and with respect to his presence. A despised slave from Israel who commanded honor from those recognized as powerful in the time contradicted every norm of that time. The idea so crossed norms and expectations, that the Jews, years later in Jesus’s time, didn’t accept that his message was for the world.
Sometimes Jesus speaks clearly leaving no doubt about the meaning for this listeners. Sometimes Jesus spoke in riddles. Sometimes he challenged their sense of order as he does in the John passage. He challenged the values of life and death, light and darkness. His example of the wheat grain offered a contrast between limits and potential. As long as the grain goes ungerminated, it does nothing. Upon germination, though, it produces a full plant thousands of times its size that culminates in the production of a grain-head with many copies of itself. He presents it in human terms as the value one has for his own life: being centered on preserving one’s life limits what one can/will do while valuing something other than one’s life opens one up to anything God can do with you. The idea that a group of uneducated working-class men could be the voice of God blinded the educated leadership-class to the message before them. Despite the history of prophets being called from all walks of life, the Jewish leadership in the time of Jesus held to the idea that only they or someone like them could speak with authority. Society’s structures guaranteed it.
God does not respect the beliefs we convince ourselves are most important. As soon as we establish rules that control God, who he can love, or who can join his kingdom, God makes a shepherd a king, a farmer a prophet, a carpenter the Messiah. When we open our mind to potential and release the limitations society has determined for anyone, God’s work begins through us.