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A message for the week starting on Sunday 3rd March 2024

Lectionary Week:  Third Sunday in Lent

Prescribed Texts: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

Focus Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

When we read that Paul wrote “but we preach Christ crucified” (verse 23), we probably understand it against the background of everything we have learnt about Jesus’ redemption on the cross. That is why it is for us, in the first instance, a positive description – because we know that “Christ crucified” means that we are redeemed.

But how did those who listened to Paul proclaiming “Christ crucified” understand it? The rest of verse 23 tells us that most of them responded extremely negatively. And it seems as if Paul’s countrymen in particular were offended by this message.

Any Israelite’s first reaction to the news that a friend or family member or even a fellow Israelite had been crucified would probably have been one of shock, grief, loathing, shame, etcetera. The Israelites feared this death by torture of the Roman oppressors. Crucifixion was the most horrendous, humiliating and disgraceful way of dying. Add to this that Deut 21:23 says: “… anyone who hung on a tree is under God’s curse”, and we can understand why the Israelites abhorred this practice of the Romans.

If, however, an Israelite would hear that someone unknown or someone about whom dubious rumours were going around had been crucified, this news would make him/her wonder: hasn’t this happened because the person’s sins are so great?

We still get these reactions when somebody is stigmatised. When it is someone close to us, we are shocked, sad and ashamed. When it is somebody we don’t know, we are quick to make sin the reason and God’s punishment the explanation. An example of this is the way in which many people respond to the news that someone is living with HIV or AIDS.

It is important to realise that Paul does not adapt or change his message of “Christ crucified.” He says that Jesus is crucified and proclaims that this Jesus who is crucified is the Christ.

What Paul writes next (verses 25 – 31) makes it clear that to him “Christ crucified” is the essence of the gospel. This is where Jesus took his place: among those who are “lowly” and “despised” (verse 28). This is where Jesus came to die: on the accursed cross.

Where “Christ crucified” is preached, believed and obeyed, there should be no room for stigma.

To think about:

Who are the people in your community that get stigmatised or pushed to the margins by others or even yourself? How would “Christ crucified” respond to such persons? What is the crucified Christ calling you to do about it?

Written by: Prof Denise Ackerman and Rev Lundi Joko, Archdeacon of Helderberg and Churches, Channels of Hope facilitator. Republished in 2024.