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Lenten Devotional: Feb. 25

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Today’s texts: Genesis 39:1-23; 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15; Mark 2:1-12

1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15

The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God and the wisdom of God is foolishness to this world, so says Paul. Even though he claims not to speak “in lofty words or wisdom” but “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (2:3), nonetheless, armed with “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (2:4), Paul opposes, with a rhetorical flair that is the envy of all wordsmiths, two kinds of wisdom, that of the world and that of God. The wisdom of the world is the knowledge that “material” humans (the psychikoi) achieve by means of purely natural understanding, the kind of knowledge that is the glory of the Greek mind. In contrast, the wisdom of God is the gift of the Spirit, who “searches everything, even the depths of God” (2:10).  This divine wisdom is realized in two stages. First, there is the wisdom bestowed on the “infants in Christ” (nēpioi en Christō), the “people of the flesh (3:1). Second, there is the wisdom that makes Christians into “spiritual” (pneumatikoi) or “perfect” (teleioi) persons. By virtue of this wisdom, spiritual and perfect Christians are able to judge all things according to “the mind of Christ” (2:16). For Paul, this wisdom of God is shown in the cross of Christ, which is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1:23). To those who are called by God, however, the crucified Christ is “wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1:30).  This is the message that Paul steadfastly proclaimed, and it is the same message that Christians must continue to proclaim everywhere.

How do we Asians proclaim this message to our fellow Asians, and even more importantly, live it today?  In answering the first question, it is essential that we not automatically identify Asian religions, philosophies, and customs with the “wisdom of the world.” The cross of Christ has not always been a “stumbling block” or “foolishness” to many Asians. Indeed, a great number of them—the Dalits, for instance—proudly and lovingly identify themselves with the crucified Jesus.  Also, the “descent” and “ascent” of Jesus Christ (Phil 2:6-11) would not sound strange or scandalous in the ears of those schooled in the Dao De Jing (chapter 2). More than ever, today we believe the Spirit of God, who gives the “wisdom of God,” is not absent from Asia’s cultural and religious traditions, nor sacred books and rituals.

In answer to the second question, it is important to note that for Paul the Corinthian Christians who claimed to be pneumatikoi and teleioi showed that their claim was empty not on account of some heterodox teachings but because of their “jealousy and quarreling” (3:3). Sadly, this picture reflects many Asian Christian communities that are plagued with endemic infighting, with groups vying for “Paul,” “Cephas,” “Apollos,” or “Christ” (1:12).  As a result, even though the cross of Christ is for us “the wisdom of God,” our proclamation of it is not credible to our fellow Asians.

Finally, Paul declares that “no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ” (3:11). The Lenten season is an urgent invitation to Asian Christians, especially those of us living in the U.S., to examine if our foundation has not been replaced by other “christs,” be they market economy, military power, educational achievements, and even mega-churches. These things may well be “the wisdom of the world,” which is however foolishness with God.

Dr. Peter Phan, a native of Vietnam, emigrated as a refugee to the U.S.A. in 1975. He obtained three doctorates, the Doctor of Sacred Theology from the Universitas Pontificia Salesiana, Rome, and the Doctor Philosophy and the Doctor of Divinity from the University of London. He was also awarded two honorary doctorates: the Doctor of Theology from Chicago Theological Union and the Doctor of Humane Letters from Elms College, MA. He is currently the Ignacio Ellacuría Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University, Washington, DC. He is general editor of a multi-volume series entitled “Theology in Global Perspective” for Orbis Books and a multi-volume series entitled “Ethnic American Pastoral Spirituality” for Paulist Press. Among his wide ranging theological publications is Christianity With an Asian Face: Asian American Theology in the Making, Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue, and Vietnamese-American Catholics (Pastoral Spirituality Series)

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