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.
That attitude literally drips from our culture, perhaps more visibly in the context of the United States and their fierce focus on liberty at all costs, but it is present in Alberta as well, an independence that says I can do this all on my whiles and strength, and have need of nothing other than my mind, my labour. I see this play out repeatedly in Workers’ Compensation appeals: the young worker who leaves grade school for the riches of the oil patch, some who earn six figures by working 80 hour weeks, 6 weeks in 2 weeks out. Then they have a devastating injury that leaves them unable to work, and they come asking how is it fair now, as I can’t live on my benefits? It is easy to live a joyous life when the money flows, less certain when you can no longer lift the wrench and are now in a minimum wage job. Where do you turn when the life you knew ends?
Yann Martel, in his book the Life of Pi asks the same question of Christ from a Hindu perspective (Chapter 17):
This Son, on the other hand, who goes hungry, who suffers from thirst, who gets tired, who is sad, who is anxious, who is heckled and harassed, who has to put up with followers who don’t get it and opponents who don’t respect Him – what kind of a god is that? It’s a god on too human a scale, that’s what. There are miracles, yes, mostly of a medical nature, a few to satisfy hungry stomachs; at best a storm is tempered, water is briefly walked upon. If that is magic, it is minor magic, on the order of card tricks. Any Hindu god can do a hundred times better.