The Foolishness of the Cross
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
January 30, 2011
I love to bless stuff! I’ve made something of a joke of it over the years. I’ll bless anything. In part, that’s because of the priests I’ve worked with, one of whom always seemed to have an aspergillum near to hand. Aspergillum—if that word is unfamiliar to you, think of it as a “holy water pot.” Around here, I’ve blessed the new freezers and coolers in the food pantry, the youth room space, animals of course, on St. Francis’ Day, and most recently the new dishwasher.
For some, such stuff smacks of superstition or silliness, but it’s not, or only sometimes, and on the surface. Blessing is important, even the blessing of inanimate objects reminds us that they are set aside often, for important uses. Blessing is not a ritual cleaning, or a magical act. To bless things, whether it’s a dishwasher, a dog, or the food before we begin eating, underscore the sacred nature of all of creation and that even ordinary things can be set aside for holy use. Continue reading
Finally, things are beginning to settle down. We have entered that period of the church year known as Ordinary Time, the weeks after the Feast of Pentecost. We will be in Ordinary Time all the way through November, right up to the beginning of the next church year, which begins on the First Sunday of Advent. Since last December, we have been following, more or less, the life of Jesus from his birth, through his baptism, on to his death and resurrection. With our celebration of his Ascension and Pentecost, when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit, we turn our attention away from Jesus’ nature, his life and death, and turn toward his teachings and his ministry among the people of the Roman territory of Palestine in the first century.
Today is the Conversion of St. Paul. There are at least three versions of this event in the New Testament. The most famous is Acts 9:1-22. From there we have all of the juicy details–Paul’s persecution of the early Christian community, the road to Damascus, his ensuing blindness. Luke gives us another version of the same event in Acts 22:3-16. Paul describes the same event in rather different terms in Galatians 1. Paul’s account describes a different sequence of events following his “conversion,” but more importantly, he doesn’t use language of conversion at all. Instead, Paul writes of being called:
But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-16)
The notion that Paul’s conversion was a dramatic break from the past is firmly fixed in Christian thought and devotion and there is some legitimacy to it. Paul himself describes a radical break from his past of persecuting Christans. However, in another way, it wasn’t a conversion. He does not see himself “converting” from one religion to another, from Judaism to Christianity.
Still, conversion holds a powerful grip on Christian reflection, and indeed that grip has strengthened over the centuries, especially since the 18th century Evangelical Revival (led by the Wesleys and George Whitefield).
Whatever one thinks of the historicity of Luke’s account, and the utility of viewing the Christian life in terms of conversion, perhaps the most powerful depiction of Luke’s version is that of Caravaggio: