There is a popular saying that Jesus does not give us a cross that is beyond our ability to bear. Serious illness can certainly test that notion. We might be the sick person, or even a helpless caregiver or bystander.
In reading this excerpt from 1 Corinthians, does that ring true? Christians accept the cross as more of an abstract piece. Maybe an object of devotion. Maybe decoration or jewelry. Some focus on the nature of the event as scientific: how Jesus suffered, how he died, where the nails were placed, etc..
That seems to miss the central notion of the cross as symbol and reality of our suffering. Why does it happen to us? What does it mean? If we try to analyze it, the apostle seems to say, we will fail.
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.
For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the learning of the learned I will set aside.”
Where is the wise one?
Where is the scribe?
Where is the debater of this age?
Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish?
For since in the wisdom of God
the world did not come to know God through wisdom,
it was the will of God
through the foolishness of the proclamation
to save those who have faith.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called,
Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
When we look at physical misfortune, we can blame it on an unjust God. We can also attribute it to the fault of the person. Jesus rejects both these theories outright (cf. John 9:3). Suffering can be steered to the glory of God and the witness of the Gospel. It doesn’t fit with logic, or the attempt to put logic into religion. We might stumble as we try to comprehend.
Is it a good reading for someone who is sick? It could be, for someone fairly well-grounded in their faith. In the Sunday Lectionary, some of this passage is read on Lent’s Third Sunday, cycle B (2021, 2024, etc.). Lent gives one perspective, perhaps easier to follow. From the inside of serious illness, it might be a challenge. When we are vulnerable, we sometimes want to go with what we know: what our human “wisdom” has taught us.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.