Imagine a high school student who’s grown up listening only to popular music: rap, rock and film scores. Imagine that on his sixteenth birthday, someone decides to play him some classical music. What would his reaction would be? Indifference? Boredom? Outright repulsion? He’d probably consider this music to lack rhythm, feeling and power, the harmonic and orchestral complexity of the piece going right over his head, the quality of the interpretation beyond his ability to judge or appreciate.
This wouldn’t be surprising, for he would have no context by which to judge this music. His criteria for appreciating music are not those of the classical repertoire. The gulf between his own experience and such music is simply too wide.
So was it with the Jews and the Greeks as they considered Jesus’ message and life. He just did not fit into their pre-established ways of understanding, the Jewish people wanting signs of power and miracles of a messianic age, the Greeks desiring well-turned oratory and philosophical subtlety. What did the Gospel offer? A powerless Christ, crucified on the cross, silent and meaningless. At least, so it seemed to most Jews and Greeks of the time.
Let’s return our young man. Let’s imagine he’s decided to listen more seriously to this strange classical music. Let’s pretend he really pays attention and gives the music a fighting chance. Perhaps some passage will touch him in a particular way, some selection awaken something in his heart. He’ll come back to this passage, this selection, explore a bit more of this music that he’s starting to appreciate. Over the months and years, he’ll discover that this music is indeed deeply rhythmical, capable of provoking powerful, overwhelming emotions in him. His appreciation of popular music also starts to change, finding it a bit superficial and plain compared to this music that has endured through the centuries and still today touches minds and hearts.
So was it with the first Christians. Deciding to reflect on the teaching of Jesus and discovering within it a true wisdom, contemplating his life and finding, hidden in his powerlessness, the power of divine love, they came to understand Christ as true wisdom and true power.
Where does that leave us today? Judging the message and life of Jesus from the perspective of our own criteria, shaped as they are by the media, our superficial reading and our discussions with our neighbours, we risk seeing nothing but folly and weakness in the Gospel. On the other hand, we could try understanding Jesus’ message from the perspective of faith, asking the Spirit to enlighten us as we contemplate his life, joining with the Church in a journey that strives to live in faithfulness to his call. Then might we well discover that Jesus truly is the wisdom and the power of God.