Summary: 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10 It is in our weakness that we find the true strength of Christ - St Paul addresses those who considered themselves
SJE sermon series: 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10, 26 August 2012
This is our second last installment in our series through Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth. What we are hearing this week is Paul’s use of irony and the startling conclusion – it is in weakness that the Christian finds true, mountain-moving strength and courage – to continue to unbind the hold that the false or pseudo-apostles have on the church. Don talked about these pseudo-apostles last week in terms of a parasite – a creature that needs another to survive, but ultimately destroys the host. Paul continues his attack on the pseudo-apostles, by demonstrating his willingness to be a fool for Christ.
Proverbs 26:4-5 gives us this wisdom: we should not answer a fool in a way that reinforces his folly, but rather we should answer according to his foolishness so he can see that he is not wise. This is what Paul is undertaking.
The context into which Paul speaks is really not that different from our present context, at least in terms of our fascination with the strong, the successful, the wealthy. Have you seen the recent movie the Avengers? It is an entertaining super-hero story, another exploration of the mythology around power and might. In the best scene of the movie the evil demi-god proclaims, ‘Enough! You are all beneath me. I am a god you dull creature, and I will not be bullied…’ and the Incredible Hulk picks him up, repeatedly slams him into the floor and then drops him, muttering, ‘Puny god’. This is the sort of mythology which fits so nicely with the way of the world, and as much as we proclaim that might does not make right, the reality of the way of the world is that often power does win the day. This is the same sort of context that Paul is facing in Corinth.
We’ve talked about the Greek context of Paul’s ministry, but it is worth re-stating because it does emphasize for us again how similar our present context is to what Paul was facing, and why his words carry such import for we Christians here today. Humility was not a virtue in the Greek mind – humility was considered to be equivalent to servility, that is, humility went along with low station in life. A person who aspired to be a religious leader was expected to be charismatic, physically perfect, spiritually gifted, magical, given to ecstatic mystical experiences, and the list goes on. The expectation was that such a person was to be super-human, a religious super hero, we might say. This is so close to what we see today in the ranks of popular religious leaders…and the medium, that is the person, is placed in a position of far more importance than the message. So Paul’s critics cut into his message, by arguing that Paul is not the sort of person to be a real religious leader.
In Corinth, the particularly revolting aspect of Paul’s ministry was his stubborn fixation on the cross, the crucifixion of Christ, as the key to the faith and to true strength. This was a difficult message for a people steeped in the mythology of the heroic leader, who like a Greek hero survives incredible trials to rise triumphant again and again. Into that very super-hero focused culture, Paul proclaims the way of Christ, the super-hero who won by dying to save his people. The Greeks shake their heads, for the way of salvation is foolishness to those who are wise in the ways of the world.