We Are Fools
ʺWe are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment. I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children…I urge you to be imitators of me.ʺ (1 Corinthians 4: 10-16) Can you hear the irony that is just dripping from Paul’s words here?
Pride is a constant danger for us. Sometimes it is so subtle that we are not aware of the fact that we are acting out of it, rather than out of true humility. Even humility can be twisted into a pride. If one is always pointing out to others how humble they are, one may be in danger of becoming, ironically, prideful in one’s ʺhumility.ʺ Chaucer’s ʺParsonʺ in his Canterbury Tales says of Pride: ʺPride is shown in many forms: arrogance, impudence, boasting, hypocrisy, joy in having done harm, etc. It may be inward or outward. Outward pride is like a tavern sign that shows there is wine in the cellar. It may show itself in too many clothes or too few…One can show sinful pride in retinue, in ostentatious hospitality, in one’s strength, in one’s gentility. The remedy is Humility or true self-knowledge.ʺ True self-knowledge is a great antidote to pride.
In this passage, Paul is addressing the Corinthian converts who were already beginning to think of themselves too highly. They had become prideful in their Christianity. They had begun to think that because they had accepted the faith and been baptized, they had, in the here and now, risen above the ʺfolly of the passionʺ and that they were already living in a condition of glory. Paul truthfully describes himself and the apostles as, ʺfools on Christ’s behalf, as weak, as hungry and thirsty, poorly clad, roughly treated and homeless,ʺ In contrast he describes the Corinthians present attitude of themselves as, ʺwise in Christ, strong, held in high honor,ʺ etc. In doing this, Paul is using the same ironic contrast as Jesus did when he spoke of the ʺBeatitudesʺ in his Sermon on the Mount. Paul is trying to get the Corinthians attention here. He is admonishing them, trying to show them that, unlike the poor in spirit, whose future destiny is heaven, or those who are hungry and thirsty now, who in the future, will be satisfied, etc., the Corinthians, in their present prideful behavior, are paradoxically in the position of those whose future is in woe. He is warning them that if they continue to think of themselves in this exalted way, as having gotten beyond the ʺfollyʺ of the passion, as already living in a condition of glory, they are going to be in for a terrifying surprise in the future.
The message is for us too. Paul is giving us another example of the ʺnarrow pathʺ to the kingdom of God here. It is a difficult one. It involves developing the habits of an humble attitude which will enable us to bless those who either in their hatred, or their ignorance, ridicule us. It is in humility that we will be able to endure persecution, or to respond gently to the slander that others may apply to us because of our faith.
Life is tough enough, but pride always makes it worse. Jesus is always our North Star. He is the One who is the Way, The Truth and the Life. He says to us, ʺTake my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.ʺ (Matthew 11: 29) Is that not what we are all in search of? Is that not what our hearts yearn for? To find the ‘rest’ we seek, we need only imitate Christ, as Paul and the apostles did, by letting go of our various prides and becoming poor in spirit. Then the kingdom of heaven will be ours.
Let us pray earnestly and often for the gift of a humble heart. Jesus, in his love, will not deny us such a humble request. Amen.