My previous post is about hermitic ruminating; now, the contrast to that aloneness.
About the best thing that happens when we’re studying the Bible together in a small group is to have an ancient scripture selection suddenly come to life in and for here and now. I’m blessed, I mean really blessed, to have two occasions every week where that often occurs, and here’s the story of what happened in one of those blessed events last week:
Thursday mornings I get up early to meet with a half-dozen business men before they go to work and I head back home to catch a nap. Lately we’ve been working through 1 Samuel, where perhaps one would not likely expect awe-inspiring breakthroughs, but without warning, they happen!
This past Thursday we were into 1 Samuel 17 where there are words so familiar, especially for those in the group who heard them in Sunday school classes decades past, that we can come close to repeating them verbatim, with old images that come drifting back clear as sunshine. It’s the story of David and Goliath, and maybe because of our familiarity, we were struggling to find some applicable meaning. We were concentrating on the huge contrast of stature and preparedness for battle, Goliath totally armored and armed, David’s shunning all armor and as a weapon merely a slingshot and five smooth stones. We commented on David’s total trust in God, which in that dire situation obviously seemed remarkably foolish by any earth-born appraisal of the situation.
The word, foolish, kicked off a larger train of thought that led us into 1 Corinthians, chapter 1, with Paul’s discourse about foolishness: God chooses the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong; the foolishness of preaching; the foolishness of the Cross.
Then we shifted again, to the fact that Jesus is named, Son of David often in Gospel stories, referring to DNA and pedigree, to be sure, and to regal heritage if you’re into fairly esoteric theology, but there’s more here, important parallels between this story of the young David and his foolishness and how Jesus lived his life, and especially how he went to his death. He calls up neither an army of followers nor armory of weapons but walks intentionally into an arena of deadly power, the blatant religious power of Caiphas, the brazen political and military power of Pilate, and beyond that, into the cosmic power of consummate evil. For five smooth stones, Jesus has a cross, no weapon at all, and the odds of his defeat are so enormous his closest followers have long since given up hope.
We know the ending of David’s story well and the ending of Jesus’ story, too. Goliath lies dead and deflated, but Jesus dies, the obvious victim of overwhelming power—but then rises from his grave to assure his followers that the foolishness of the cross is indeed the power of God. Out of that assurance the church grew and is at its best still when it lives by that foolishness of the cross.
As I reflected later on those very special minutes together, I recalled words written by John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite theologian:
The point . . . is that people who bear crosses are working with the grain of the universe. One does not come to that belief by reducing social processes to mechanical and statistical models, nor by winning some of one’s battles for the control of one’s own corner of the fallen world. One comes to it by sharing the life of those who sing about the Resurrection of the slain Lamb.
(from “Armaments and Eschatology,” quoted by Stanley Hauerwas in the foreword of By the Grain of the Universe)
Ruminating on those words, a name appears: Doug Cedarleaf, my pastor/friend, who more than any other was my mentor and guide, God’s servant who throughout long ministry relied for himself and related to us who listened the weakness and foolishness of following Jesus, the wounded healer, and pointed out to us the way of the cross in the world as the one way of truth, and life. His message echoes right now, and I know the via crucis is the way ahead for the church and for me.