Tuesday: 4 September, 2012 –– 22nd Week in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 2:10b-16 / Luke 4:31–37
In today’s Gospel, Jesus delivers a man from demonic possession. Those looking on were all amazed. They did not understand because they were looking at Jesus through “natural” eyes. This happens still today. In our “enlightened” Western world, most scoff at the idea of “demonic possession.” It is also true that most do not seem to understand Jesus.
In this part of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul identifies and contrasts two types of wisdom: two approaches to knowing –– in fact, two lines of humanity. One tries to know truth –– to gain wisdom and knowledge –– by starting with and building on the perceptions and abilities of Man. The other recognizes that truth, knowledge and wisdom have their origin in God, and if Man is going to have understanding, it must begin with God. We might think Paul is overstating the case that Christ and the cross is foolishness to the world, but our understanding and response to that affects so much who we are and what we do.
It affects our pride. Can we make it on our own or do we need someone else? The serpent convinced Eve she could have truth, wisdom and knowledge independently of anyone else, and all of humanity has tried to believe that ever since.
It affects our values. Do I make choices based on my own opinions? Do I start with my own pleasure, comfort and safety, or do I recognize that my Creator and his ways get first consideration?
It affects the way we try to answer those two questions of self-confidence and values. Can I make those decisions that concern me so intimately by myself, or do I need some outside source to come into my private world and tell me what I need to know?
The Christian answer to all of this is not self-affirming. It is bad news. The foundation of all that Jesus Christ is and does is that we cannot know truth, we cannot have wisdom and knowledge by ourselves. Both individually and collectively, Mankind is limited, twisted and helpless. Those are three of Paul's points in these verses.
That is Paul's point in v11: For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We are helpless to get wisdom on our own; we are dependent on the source of wisdom.
That seems so simple. Why would everyone not turn to God for that wisdom? The answer is in the distortion of “natural” Man: we are twisted. There is a spiritual condition in humans that causes us to reject help. We want to be free to make up our own minds. We want to be independent. We follow right in the footsteps of Eve, still saying "I want to be able to do it all by myself." That is how we are twisted. It is why we are cut off from God. It is why people do evil things. We do not want to admit our limitations, and we struggle to prove we are not helpless. In doing that we prove the worst thing of all –– we are twisted. We are pessimists when we should be optimists and we are optimists when we should be pessimists. We hurt ourselves and others.
There is that in all people which does not want to face hard things. It is no less true spiritually than physically. Some people think their values and opinions and decisions are okay as long as they are getting by. One view on moral and spiritual issues is thought to be just as good as another. In fact, the one wisdom that is most often rejected is the way of Jesus. A "natural" mind will always choose power and position over something that appears weak, despicable and threatening.
That is because a “natural” person is not a complete person. The only way we can understand who we are as people made in the image of God is for God's Spirit to live in us. Without God's Spirit in us, we are without understanding; there is no truth and no hope.
That is part of the meaning of v14–– The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. There are only two types of people in this world: natural and spiritual. People who are "natural" do natural things. They understand their world and its events in natural ways. All it takes to be natural is to be born into the world.
But to be spiritual, the Holy Spirit has to come inside a person. And the only way that can happen is through Jesus Christ. That in itself does not end every problem, but it provides the only foundation on which anything lasting can stand.
Everyone who has God's Spirit can sing with Charles Wesley:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed thee.
Amazing love! How can it be,
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
God's Spirit changes us. Knowing Jesus moves us beyond the world's idea of what is "natural".