In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
The Jews murmured at him because he said he was the bread which came down from heaven…Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?
They think he is crazy.
They know his father, and his father’s father. At least they think they know any way. From their point of view, Jesus is a known commodity—one of many other Jews. The Jewish tent is a very big place—embracing everything from secular to ultra-devout. If Jesus were simply a miracle worker or a reformer they could figure him out and either adhere to or ignore him as they would any other reformer or miracle worker. But he is different. He is preaching something entirely different.
Paul made this mistake. During his second missionary journey Paul went to Athens, the philosophical capital of the world. Converting Athens would be quite the feather in his cap.
This is the big leagues. He was trained in this way. He knows exactly what he is doing. He makes it relevant to their situation. He quotes ancient poetry off the top of his head. In his mind he has them in the palm of his hand.
But he fails to really distinguish Christianity from the crowd. It is just one of many ways in which to live one’s life. It is, the way he presents it, just another philosophy in a long line of philosophies.
As a result, not many people were converted. What should have been his greatest accomplishment was a tremendous failure. After this Paul proceeds to Corinth, tail between his legs. But on the way, Paul was able to assess what went wrong.
In every other place he had been, there was scandal, there was persecution associated with his message. He would preach to the Jews in the town and then get run out fairly quickly due to his message. What was different about this place that failed to convert the Athenians? The scandal of the cross.
“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you…odd” – Flannery O’Connor
A philosophy that presents just a nice way of living—even the best way of living—is not something that is worthy of mass conversion because people are caught up in their own way of living. What good is a way of life that tells you to be good when that is not the way the world works? People cheat in order to place themselves at the top of the heap. That is the way of life.
Paul forgot this in his address to the Athenians. So when he got to Corinth, he changed tactics.
“When I came to you brothers, I did not come proclaiming the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
Paul had gotten away from his bread and butter: the scandal of the cross—Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified.
Jews demand signs. They wanted to know that Jesus was the deliverer come from God—the deliverer who would remove Roman rule. Jesus did not provide that in their eyes, he was crucified.
Greeks seek wisdom. Jesus proclaims wisdom, but the inversion of society does not compute. This is foolishness. As a philosopher, St. Augustine considered Christians beneath him. He sought wisdom beyond what was seemingly offered.
Jesus came to show a better way—a way of humiliation and agony. The cross of Christ is the stumbling block to Jews, because what Messiah sent from God could not deliver even himself from the shameful death of crucifixion?
The cross is folly to the philosophers because why would God willingly subject himself to crucifixion when he could simply expand their minds? Why would crucifixion even be necessary?
Because of my sins.
My sins put him there. And your sins. In fact the sins of the whole world throughout all time were what caused Jesus to hang there on the cross in our place.
The scandal of the cross is that we are all sinful people, yet Christ died for us anyway. The Son of God willingly took your sins and my sins, and the sins of even the most notorious sinner and died for them, that all who want to may have eternal life with the Father. This is silliness.
Why can we not merit eternal life on our own? Because it is a free gift. Even the most saintly person we can think of—Mother Theresa for instance—cannot merit eternal salvation on her own. “But the rules are supposed to save us” cry the Jews. “But our minds can surely be enlightened to the point of salvation” cries philosophy. But the cross flies in the face of both of these. Salvation is offered freely and all who want it must unite themselves to that sacrifice.
This unification with death is causes new life to spring forth. This is what St. Paul is talking about to the Ephesians in our reading today.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. And walk in love, as Christ love us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
New life springs forth from his wounds because it is the death of sin. All sins committed are paid for on the cross. Their forgiveness just needs to be desired.
Beloved, this is where we come in. We too must preach the scandal of Christ in our lives. In everything we do, we must show that the knowledge of the forgiveness of our sins and the price that it required has changed us. We have been crucified with Christ such that we no longer live, but he lives in us. We must radically encounter the world and show them that same love that Christ showed us. Because our sins are forgiven, we should seek to show others that their sins, no matter how great are forgiven as well.
We must seek to show the world what Jesus proclaims: “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living brad which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The world offers many things that seem good. Things are offered which are even miraculous. But even miracles are not salvific. Only one thing saves, Jesus—the bread of life. And when we partake of this heavenly food, we partake of the forgiveness of our sins which were sacrificed on the cross through Jesus Christ. As we partake of this salvation, new life springs forth—new life that draws all people to the same.
And so beloved, go forth and preach scandal. Preach scandal for the salvation of the whole world.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.