“Where is the wisdom of the wise?” Paul asks,
“Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
Philosopher Auguste Compte was the child of the Enlightenment
and the father of much philosophy that would follow.
A large stone monument to Compte stands in front of the Sorbonne,
one of the world’s greatest universities.
It portrays the triumph of modern philosophy
over the both of the old wisdom ways
– Greco-Roman Classical philosophy :
Aristotle, Cicero, and Marcus Aurelius.
and the Medieval Christianity of St. Francis, St. Benedict, etc.
The statue of a proud Compte is big, very big.
There are two small figures at his feet.
To his left is a forlorn Classical Greek boy with his lyre
resting idly in his lap -- superseded and un-played.
To his right is Mary, the Christ Child in her arms;
but she does not look at Baby Jesus.
She gazes upward in rapt adoration of Auguste Compte.
But on the day I saw this monument,
a real life pigeon was perched on Compte’s head,
there to do what pigeons do.
The pigeon’s name was Paul.
Actually, the Bible isn’t anti-intellectual.
The so-called “wisdom” Paul rejected
wasn’t about reason in search of truth.
It was a prescriptive philosophy
– a how to succeed at business formula
-- only it’s broader than business. It’s how to succeed at life .
Take the adage, “Early to bed, early to rise,
makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
Ben Franklin was paraphrasing a Greek adage from
the how-to-be successful guidelines of Paul’s day,
what he called “the wisdom of the world.”
Prescriptions for a happy life still abound.
Some are religious like Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel.
Others are secular or New Age.
Amazon offers The 7 Habits of Effective People,
The 48 Laws of Power,
Think And Grow Rich, and multiple guides for how
to make our spouse affectionate, our children obedient,
our subordinates at work docile, and our boss distracted.
Much of this is rubbish, but there’s some sound advice in the mix.
It would be rank hypocrisy of me to condemn it all
-- not while I eat a brain health diet, do family systems therapy,
and keep a warehouse of nutritional supplements.
So eat kale. Wear sunscreen. Fine.
But here’s Paul’s point:
There are limits to what life prescriptions can do.
Too many things are beyond our control;
most are even beyond our influence:
genetics, family history, social and economic constraints,
the weight of history and random luck.
When we drive down life’s highway, we should drive carefully,
but we aren’t the only driver on the road.
Other people run red lights.
Driving carefully down life’s highway
improves our odds but it doesn’t guarantee happiness.
Kentucky poet Robert Penn Warren says,
“the earth grind(s) on its axis . . .
history drip(s) in darkness like a leaking pipe . . ..”
Call it entropy, Murphy’s law, fate, or bad luck.
Sometimes life is tough.
Christians say it this way: life has a cross in it.
“Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free?
No there’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for me.”
Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we suffer. Eventually we die.
That’s the cross. But you know who we meet at the cross?
Jesus. We meet Jesus at the cross.
At Calvary he made our cross his cross.
The cross isn’t the only place of communion with Jesus,
but it’s the place that we need him most.
We meet him in times of trouble, at the point of our vulnerability.
I’ve had times of trouble. You have too.
Maybe you’ve got troubles today.
Those troubles lead us to the Beatitudes.
Matthew’s and Luke’s versions are a little different,
but their point is the same.
Instead of “Blessed are the indigent,”
it’s “blessed are the depressed.”
Instead of “Blessed are the malnourished;’
it’s “blessed are the downtrodden.”
Jesus never said, “Blessed are the rich, the good-looking
and charming, the self-assured and serene,
the prosperous and the healthy.”
It’s “blessed are the afflicted, the anxious,
the stumblers on life’s road.”
Jesus isn’t prescribing masochistic self-mortification
like Medieval monks.
We don’t have to fast, flagellate ourselves,
or climb stone steps on our knees.
Life deals us our share of sorrow.
But when hardship inevitably happens, Jesus meets us there.
When we bleed, he bleeds – we bleed together.
Jesus doesn’t just comfort us.
He redeems our suffering by investing it with spiritual meaning.
He doesn’t cause our suffering. The world does that.
He redeems it.
Jesus turns our tragedy into the gateway to joy.
We are blessed when we falter,
because we meet Jesus at the cross
and that’s Communion with the power of love in it.
For Holy Communion to happen, the bread of life must be broken.
“The world breaks everyone and afterward
many are strong in the broken places.”
In R. S. Thomas’s poem about the sinking
of a Welsh fishing trawler, he says to Jesus,
“You are there also
at the foot of the precipice
of water that was too steep for the drowned . . ..
You have made an altar of the deck of the lost
trawler whose spars are your cross. . . .
There is a sacrament there . . ..”
Our cross. Jesus’ cross. It’s the same cross.
That’s the sacrament. That’s Communion.
We may or may not feel his presence.
But he’s there. We know it by faith.
Rough patches are where we find the love of Jesus,
and to know the love of Jesus is better – it is better –
than being “healthy, wealthy and wise.”
A high school music teacher, Rhea Miller, said it best:
“I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold.
I’d rather be his than have riches untold.
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or land.
I’d rather be led by his nail pierced hand.”