Many years ago I purchased a certified ant farm for our children. We mailed the “Guaranteed Live Ants” postcard and waited expectantly for the wiggly insects to arrive—a fascinating project, but ultimately doomed.

We doted on our small friends, lifting the lid at prescribed intervals to provide morsels of fruit and just the right amount of moisture. The ants, despite our consistent care, started dying and began eating each other—the Donner Party in miniature.

The ant enterprise caused me to ponder God’s intervention a couple millennia ago with a beautiful and often messy creation gone awry. God looked over the world’s death and suffering and responded by “lifting the lid,” so to speak, curiously offering another (albeit crucified) dead body in response. I made this connection with a skeptical friend one night. “Yeah,” he said. “Sounds a lot like you tossing another dead ant to those floundering for life on your kids’ ant farm.”

•••

Early in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he uses the word “foolishness” multiple times to describe the cross of Christ. The Greek word is moria, from whence “moron” is derived. One might paraphrase Paul’s words and say, “The message about the cross is moronic to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

This claim is at the heart of the gospel, but I’m sure you have friends who have asked: “What in the world was God thinking?”

The cross is a rather odd centerpiece of our faith. When someone asks about Jesus hanging on one for the sake of the world, I always slow down. It’s true that Jesus “died for our sins.” But honest seekers are often looking for more than those four words.

Imagine yourself browsing through a musuem exhibit depicting examples of the world’s power. Famous international despots—Hitler, Bin Laden, Stalin—line up and tell their misguided (yet powerful) stories. Natural disruptions also adorn this exhibit—powerful tornadoes, tsunamis.

But I doubt you’ll find a facsimile of Jesus hanging on a cross gracing this corner of the museum. Or if he did appear there, crucified, I suspect you’d find few filing by and saying, “Look kids, would you just take a gander at that powerful man.”
Paul offers a reasonable initial admission. In a world like ours—full of violence and suffering—the cross seems meant for morons. If there’s power here, then it’s hiding well below the surface of first glances.

•••

I once traveled in Guatemala with church friends. We visited a village whose Mayan citizens were cruelly murdered at the height of the country’s 30-year war. (This really hit home. One of my daughters is Mayan from nearby El Salvador.) A crucifix hung in a local cathedral, the arms of the cross blown off by a bomb. Many well-meant offers have been made over the years to replace the mutilated cross. “No,” the Guatemalans said. “We like the cross the way it is, a reminder that we are the arms of Christ in this violent place.”

Paul claims the cross is power for those who are “being saved.” Present tense. Contrary to the spiritual confidence of many Christians who refer to salvation only in the past tense (“Brother, have you been saved?”), this carefully nuanced theologian suggests that the paradoxical power of the cross gets under one’s skin over unhurried time.

•••

This Lent, consider tracing the “sign of the cross” over your body in baptismal remembrance. Do it on a daily basis—first thing in the morning and again before falling asleep. Try it during worship, reminding the church of the shape of the Christian life. Try it for Lent—and life.

“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Foolish power for all attentive to salvation’s measured process.

Frank G. Honeycutt

Author of 10 books, Frank Honeycutt is an ELCA pastor living in Walhalla, S.C. His collection of fictional short stories, God’s Scorekeeper, will be released this fall by Cascade Books.

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