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 4:10-13
St. Paul has always been a puzzle to me. He writes wisely about his foolishness, strongly about his weakness, and boastfully about how he little he boasts. I got a fresh start at thinking of him after watching the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ. It helped me see a unified personality rather than a frustrating paradox.
St. Paul tells the Corinthians that he and the other apostles are fools. They are weak, held in disrepute, hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten, and homeless. They grow weary from their work. What fools to work so hard with such little results!
When reviled, they bless; when persecuted, they endure; when slandered, they speak kindly. That, too, is foolish. These apostles do the opposite of what men should do, blessing when they should curse, enduring when they should rebel, speaking kindly when they should speak out.
They have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things. Even in their own eyes, they are what men least esteem. What sort of example does that give the next generation of Christians?
After all, why do we work? We work to show our wisdom and our strength. We work for honor. We work to eat, drink, dress well, be treated well, have a home, and have time to rest.
These are good things. They are requirements of our bodies and our society. Yet if we begin to believe that these things give us worth, that is true foolishness. That is man’s way, the way of the world. It is not the way of God.
Our true worth is in how we respond to God’s infinite love for us. The life St. Paul describes is a life completely free of attachments and distractions. While we may not yet desire that life, we must challenge ourselves in taking the first steps to desire it. That is what Lent (beginning tomorrow, Ash Wednesday) is about.
Fools for the sake of Christ
For the foolishness of the Apostles is for Christ and like Christ.
Surely he has borne our infirmitiesIsaiah 53:4-5
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
If we had any share in the humility and faith of the Apostles, if we saw them in action, we would not condemn them as foolish. We would be in awe.
St. Paul writes “not to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children”. It is the warning and encouragement we need as we begin this penitential season. St. Paul wants to help us free ourselves from the falsehoods that have entangled us.
The Church encourages us to fast, to eat less than we usually do. When we fast, we grow hungry and weak. Our minds lose their sharpness. We realize our dependency on every piece of bread. The lack of food shows us what we truly are. An abundance of food, however, often convinces us that we are more than we are.
We are weak. We are foolish. We are completely dependent on God. We are what the world least esteems, each and every one of us. We’re just really good at fooling ourselves.
Let us instead remember what we are: beloved children of God.