Aesop’s fables give keen insight into the human condition; they expose the folly of human vanity and pride, laziness and trickery. A lesser–known fable, that of the olive tree and fig tree, warns against boasting due to the possibility of reversals of fortune: the olive tree taunts the fig tree for having lost all her leaves in the winter. She brags of her own year–round beauty. As she boasts, a thunderbolt strikes her and burns her to ashes, while the fig tree stands safe and sound.
The Bible is full of reversals of fortune like the one suffered by the olive tree. The story of Jesus Christ is the most powerful of all. God the King is born as a baby in a dirty stable into a carpenter’s family. He enjoys no superior privilege, position, or education. He chooses ordinary fishermen and despised tax collectors to follow Him and preach His message. And eventually, He dies a criminal’s death. The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus is the ultimate reversal in all of history. The good news of this God–Man’s story subverts everything that the world esteems.
The culture of Corinth is similar to our culture today. They loved power and status, and in such a culture, a crucified Savior is absurd. How could the power and wisdom of God be executed on a cross with nails in His hands and feet? This portrait compels only those who believe. The Jews demanded a grand celestial display of God’s power; the Greeks demanded carefully conceived and persuasively argued ideas. But the God–Man died without miraculous rescue from God and without eloquent philosophical treatises.
The purpose of God’s plan is clear: He reserves all glory for Himself. Not one person deserves to boast in His presence. Man’s abilities and achievements do not impress Him. This is a sobering message for the Corinthian church, whom Paul indicts for their boasting here and in later points in the letter (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18, 21; 2:7, 18; 5:2, 6). There’s no room at the Cross for pride.