The Delicacy of Wisdom

“But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). That bit from last week’s Daily Office readings surprised me. Far better, I thought (from later in the same letter) “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (13:12). What is Paul thinking?

That got me rereading the first few chapters of the letter. Paul describes two sorts of wisdom, the world’s wisdom, in which it makes perfect sense to crucify Jesus, and God’s wisdom, in which the crucified Jesus is the cornerstone. It’s not an abstract contrast since the conflicts in Corinth are driven by that same world’s wisdom.

So “But we have the mind of Christ” is right at the tipping-point. On the one hand, if this were not true of Paul’s audience they wouldn’t be self-identifying as Christian. They’ve confessed the crucified Jesus as their cornerstone. On the other hand, their continued pursuit of status and power evidenced in their conflicts shows that this “mind of Christ” hasn’t penetrated very deeply. “I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ” (3:1). They’re at the tipping point; which way will they go?

The delicacy of wisdom. What’s playing out in Corinth is like what Jesus described in the parable of the sower. The word (like wisdom) is powerful; the word (like wisdom) is delicate. And most of us are such a surprising mix of soils! Or again, as Solomon and his editors observed, there’s such a fine line between wisdom and folly:

Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.
Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes. (Prov 26:4-5)

In Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark Watts notices that Mark juxtaposes Jesus’ two-stage healing of the blind man (“I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.”) with Peter’s confession (“You are the Messiah”) and suggests that Mark wants us to notice that Peter’s understanding is about as precise as “like trees, walking.”

We confess Jesus as the Messiah. That’s much better than nothing, but as Mark’s story shows, it’s the beginning, not the climax, of our story. Wisdom is like that. We’re (always?) at the tipping point; which way will we go?

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