Indiana Jones is not exactly what I’d call a reliable source for either theology or history. Still, there’s a moment in The Last Crusade (1989) that resonates with me. In the climactic moments of the film, Indy and his nemesis Walter Donovan are both faced with the same choice: which of the many chalices spread before them is the Holy Grail, the cup Jesus used to institute the Last Supper? Donovan wants the Grail because if he drinks from it, he will live forever; Indy wants it to save the life of his wounded father, whom Donovan has purposely shot.
Donovan’s partner chooses for him an ornate golden chalice studded with jewels, one fit for a king. He drinks; but instead of receiving eternal life, his flesh crumbles to dust. The ancient knight guarding the chalice says drily, “He chose poorly.”
Indiana, remembering Jesus to have been a carpenter, chooses instead a plain wooden chalice. It is, of course, the wise choice, and with it he saves his father.
This, somehow, is the image that came to mind as I read Paul this morning. In response to the Corinthians’ divisive name-dropping and search for worldly power and wisdom, Paul writes:
Look at your situation when you were called, brothers and sisters! By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class. But God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong. And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life—what is considered to be nothing—to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing. (1 Cor 1:26-28, CEB)
That’s not to say that there weren’t rich Christians in the church, as will become obvious later in the letter. But most were probably slaves or former slaves, all trying to make their way in a culture of competitive social climbing.
Against this fractious tendency, Paul says three times, “God chose. . . God chose. . . God chose. . .” There seems to be a two-pronged emphasis. First, Paul insists that who they are in Christ (vs. 30) is a result of God’s gracious initiative. It is not so much that they chose God, but that God chose them.
Second is the nature of the choice itself. The Corinthians might aspire to be wise or powerful; they might all wish to be “old money” from the upper class. But whom did God choose? So you’re not some sophisticated, silver-tongued intellectual, Paul seems to say. So you don’t move in the most envied social circles or have a lot of public influence. What matters, regardless of what others might think, is that God chose you–you who have neither rank nor title. And rest assured, the wisdom of God’s choice will always be vindicated in the end.
Paul’s words are downright unflattering. But that’s the point: he’s writing to people who are looking for reasons to flatter themselves. He’s not trying to insult them, but to reorient them. He’s drawing a church made primarily of Gentile converts into Israel’s story, into a people chosen by God because. . .well, just because. Not for their brilliance or money or power or attractiveness or fame or social connections. Just because.
All of this is tied intimately to the foolishness of the cross. A God who would choose a people based on their strength and merit would not be a God who would humbly sacrifice himself for them.
That’s why Paul must make them understand the foolishness of the gospel: because a people who don’t demonstrate that kind of cross-shaped humility in their life together may be pursuing a different god.
What about us?