The Message of the Cross Is Foolishness to Those Who Are Perishing
by Fr. Claude Williams, O.Praem.
St. John the Baptist is not just any prophet. In our Lord’s own words, he is a “prophet . . . . and more than a prophet.” The one of whom it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” And truly did our Lord say, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”
The Fathers of the Church offer varying explanations as to why the Baptizer is called ‘ more than a prophet.’ St. John Chrysostom proposes that among the prophets none can be said to be greater than John the Baptist, since John the Baptist is nearest to Christ among all the prophets who foretold His coming. St. Gregory holds that John is more than a prophet since the office of the prophet is to foretell that which is to come, whereas John pointed out the Messiah as already present.
In point of fact, there are many attributes of the saint that would allow us to call him at least as great as all the other prophets. For the moment, we do well to focus on just one and it is this: John was a living witness to the foolishness of God being wiser than the wisdom of men. How? He was a poor man, living in the desert, eating locust and honey . . . . .and God considered him great. Even more, God used this great man to bring a great multitude to repentance. John’s greatness was not founded in earthly things, which pass away. His greatness was founded in his connection to Christ, whose greatness cannot be measured and whose greatness lasts from age to age. John was great in so far as his whole life, not just his voice, cried out : “Christ!” The way in which he lived his life was itself a proclamation: “Prepare the way, for HE comes!”
Recall the words of St. John regarding our Lord, “Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world!” What did Herod know of such a claim? What inkling did Herodias have that her having left Phillip for Herod was not the core message of the one she had beheaded? In her sin, Herodias considered the preaching of John solely in terms of her own desires and wicked ends. For all his interest in what St. John had to say, Herod too, is overcome with a selfish interpretation of the message of the Baptist. His message to these two was so much foolishness and nuisance that they killed him. Yes, Herodias acted shrewdly. She was a woman wise in the ways of this world and learned in the ways of iniquity. Still, even at its best, the wisdom of this world remains the wisdom of this world and as such it will have an end effected by God Himself, who promised, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.” All the ways of wickedness learned over the course of the ages will soon be held against the standard of God’s ways as He has revealed them in the scriptures and as they have been put into practice in the lives of His elect. There is not one of us today who will escape this reckoning.
Then, His angels will ask, “Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where are Herod and Herodias? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish?”
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved from sin and error, Christ crucified is the power of God and His Wisdom. It is by Christ Crucified that He has saved the world from sin.
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