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The Wise Fool: Conclusion

We’ve been exploring a number of ways in which the Gospel and the Epistles urge us to step out of conformity with the world in order to be fools for Christ.

That word wasn’t unintentional. There’s a tremendous amount of literature in different cultures that presents the fool as an archetype. The fool isn’t always funny, though the fool can provide comic relief. But by and large, the fool does what other, more earnest people cannot: the fool shows us, and the world, who we really are.

Fools served as entertainment and enlightenment from Roman to medieval times. Think of every movie you’ve seen that takes place at some medieval or Renaissance court, and you’ll see the figure of the jester, who used songs, music, storytelling, satire, and physical comedy to entertain and sometimes inspire aristocratic gatherings.

Shakespeare not only borrowed from this jester tradition, but contributed significantly to its rethinking. Whereas the court jester often regaled his audience with various skills aimed to amuse, Shakespeare’s fool became a complex character who could highlight more important issues. (Wikipedia)

And so began the tradition of the Wise Fool, who seems to know everything but reveals nothing, going about their life in ways that don’t conform to the culture around them. The Wise Fool is an outsider who is not valued for their intellect. By being free from the standards of society, by being an outsider, the Fool can observe and comment with few limitations, including mocking the social elite. But, like the cursed Greek prophet Cassandra, the truth of the Fool’s words may be missed by characters who dismiss them as worthless.

It’s not accidental that Saint Paul uses the image of a fool to describe Christians. Like the Fool, we are outsiders. We live in this world, but we are not of this world.

There’s a story about a young man who went on a pilgrimage to the Himalayas to seek wisdom. He visited a monk known for his sanctity and learning. The monk welcomed the young man into his humble hermit’s cottage and they spoke at length. Finally the young man looked around at the bare walls and the simple furnishings and had to reveal his disappointment. “I don’t understand,” he said. “Where are all your books? Where are all your things?”

The monk looked at him. “Where are yours?” he asked.

The young man found the question absurd. “I don’t have any with me,” he said. “I’m just passing through.”

“Yes,” agreed the monk. “And so am I.”

In a sense, we’re all just passing through, aren’t we? We’re travelers who might live for a while in a foreign land but never become its citizens. At the end of the journey, we’re going home, where all of our real treasure lies.

A saying attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi is, “you may be the only Gospel your neighbor ever reads.” Wise words from a wise fool, and ones that we need to take to heart. If I am all that someone else knows of Christianity, what will they glean from the way I live my life? Do I live out the Gospels? Does everything I say and do point to Christ?

The fool, as we saw earlier, shows us who we really are. Are we truly fools for Christ, as Saint Paul urges us to be? This is the end of our series on the foolishness of God, but we hope that it’s only the beginning of your exploration into living the life God calls us to.

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