I came across a brief study of the word preposterous. Pre is something we are familiar with, which means “before.” The Latin word posterous is a bit more tricky, but if you think of what you fall on when you slip on the ice, posterior (aka: the derrière), then you know that posterous has something to do with the backside. More accurately it means “coming after” or “that which comes after.” Therefore, preposterous means: that which comes before comes afterwards… backwards. We take it to mean absurd or silly.
Donald K. McKim, the former Dean of Memphis Theological Seminary, used the word preposterous in a perspective on Christianity. He wrote, “Now Christianity is a preposterous faith because it asks us actually to live backwards. Or, to put it another way, Christianity asks us to put some things before other things when more naturally, we’d choose to live the other way around. The faith calls us as followers of Jesus Christ to a new lifestyle, a new way of living. It asks us to hold new attitudes. In short, Christianity asks us to live in a way the world may judge to be absurd. Yet all the time, we are really only being truly preposterous.” Christianity asks us “to live backwards” lives that by the world’s standards are absurd, silly, foolish.
How preposterous is Christianity? Just in our Gospel account today, we are asked to believe that, Elizabeth, a woman who was barren and “getting on in years” was to bear a son, we are asked to believe that a virgin, Mary, conceived a child of the Holy Spirit, and we are asked to believe that this child is the Son of God, the long awaited Messiah. Nothing preposterous there. We are also called to believe some preposterous ideas and are also called to live preposterous lives. St. John writes in his First Epistle: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world.” Yet, as preposterous as all this sounds to some, we do believe. We do seek to live according to the call that the Father has placed on each of our lives. For we know that he takes the weak, the broken, the blind, and even the crucified, and renews it, redeems it for his own purposes.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles… Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.”
When we consider a barren elderly woman giving birth to the greatest prophet ever born, a virgin conceiving a child by the Holy Spirit, a child born in a stable being the Son of God—when we consider all these these weak, low, despised, preposterous individuals and the work God performed through them, then I ask you, why would you ever think God couldn’t do the same through you?
The French novelist, Colette, said, “You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.” If our faith and our actions appear preposterous, if they appear foolish, so be it. You be faithful in your work. You be enthusiastically preposterous and reveal the Risen Christ to the world.