COMMENTARY: Being April Fools for following Christ

No one wants to be called a “fool.” In American Sign Language the sign for “fool” looks like a person (represented by a forefinger) being struck with a fist of the other hand. Indeed, fools might be considered fortunate if only their egos are bruised.

The word “fool” conjures up images of weakness, gullibility, and stupidity. But like many things about the counter-cultural, and at times counter-intuitive, faith that we practice, as true followers of Jesus Christ we can gladly — and wisely — proclaim that yes, we are fools.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “We are fools for the sake of Christ … When reviled, we bless, when persecuted we endure, when slandered, we speak kindly.” (I Corinthians 4:10 a, 12 b)

Easter this year falls on April Fool’s Day (offering a second 2018 coincidence, after Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s Day Feb. 14). The secular occasion’s origins are also religious. April Fool’s may go back to the time of Pope Gregory XIII, who changed the Christian calendar so that the first day of the year was Jan. 1 and not April 1, as had been the case under the Julian calendar. Some people back then continued to follow the old calendar. Those who did were known as “April Fools” and were subject to tricks and ridicule.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

We who follow Christ’s ways can be rightly called “fools” because we don’t follow the world’s way of dealing with adversity. Christians bless, endure and speak kindly when we face persecution and adversity.

That’s what Jesus did when he spoke seven times while hanging on Calvary’s cross, suffering and dying from a brutal crucifixion. He uttered humble words of love, forgiveness, care, assurance and faith. This kind of grace under pressure attitude is not foolish or weak but extremely powerful. It demonstrates an awesome power of mind and heart that transcends painful but superficial agonies to accomplish a greater purpose.

It can change the world. It always has, and it always will.

Linda Brown just recently passed away at the age of 76. Her legacy of counter-cultural determination will live on forever. Her father, an African Methodist Episcopal clergyman, sued the board of education in Topeka, Kansas, for refusing to admit his daughter into an all-white public school. That school was in walking distance, while the all-black school was several more miles away.

The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on May 17, 1954, ruled unconstitutional and thus, ended, the unfair “Jim Crow” segregation laws that forbade children of color from receiving an equal education in public schools attended by white children. Those laws were part of a racist, oppressive culture that had to be countered and overcome.

Linda and many other black students began attending formerly white schools. They were subjected to much racist abuse and rejection; yet, they remained steadfast, teaching the world that racism, hated and evil are no match for love.

A successful student, Linda never received a grade lower than a “B” in any of her classes. She later became an educator in a Head-Start program serving low-income, mostly black families.

Easter will fall again on April 1 in the year 2029. But we can be April Fools every day, all the time, as we move through the world with the counter-cultural attitude of our risen Lord.

Mere mortals may have mocked and mourned his demise on Good Friday. But He got the last laugh on Easter Sunday, as He turned death into life and through love overcame hate. And the foolishness of the cross (I Corinthians 1:18) became the greatest movement in human history.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson is a native of Baltimore and serves as the episcopal leader of the Philadelphia area of the United Methodist Church, which includes the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference and the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference.

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