Thursday, July 5, 2012

Life Letters: Not Resume Material

Our texts for this week, our last in a series of focusing on Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, are 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and Mark 6:1-13, which can be read here.  If you have the time and interest, I would start with 2 Corinthians10:7 and read through 13:4, just to hear where these words fit in Paul's larger argument with the Corinthians defending his ministry among them and his credibility as a preacher of the Gospel.

Paul's line of defense, however, is unconventional at best.  Lists of virtues were common in Paul's time, but I am fairly sure that in his day (as in ours!) "weakness" would have been nowhere on any list.  It was not something you boasted of or publicized--especially to people you were supposed to lead and be a model for, as Paul was for the Corinthians. 

Yet Paul does exactly that.  He starts out writing about his spiritual credentials--he has seen visions, been caught up into heaven!--but then takes a weird turn to talk about being afflicted by Satan, weakened in his ministry, plagued by what could be a fatal physical or emotional or mental or spiritual flaw.  Why on earth would he tell the Corinthians about this--and even if they already know about it, why would he bring it up at this critical point when he is trying to win their allegiance and faith in him?

We don't often put our weakness, our falling short, on display.  I can only remember one time that I did this:  my final year of seminary, when my roommate and I were both applying for pastoral positions, it seemed very few days passed without one or the other of us receiving a letter from some church telling us all the reasons we had not been chosen to be their pastor.  It was insane: we were being rejected by churches we had never even spoken to or heard of.  We didn't even know how they received what they saw as our very flawed resumes!  But after some weeks of this, we decided the way to deal with this painful process was to create a "Wall of Rejection"--to post every rejection letter we received, putting it on display for all, trophies of our continued pursuits of our crazy calls.

Now, we may have found the Wall of Rejection to be comic relief; but would we have told a church we were interviewing with about these letters, or let them read them and learn all about our flaws? Heck no!  You always want to show your best side to those you're trying to impress!

But did Paul do this?  No.  He flaunted his "wall of rejection" for everyone to see--made himself vulnerable to these people he loved thinking even less of him.  Why?  What motivation is there?

There are a lot of possibilities; but as I thought about them this week, I remembered the good that came out of that Wall of Rejection.  As we tacked the painful truths and non-truths being spoken about us to a wall beside each other, my roommate and I found that our feelings of weakness no longer isolated us.  We found new solidarity being in it together.  As we shared in this weakness, we strengthened our relationship.  And since few of us have had lofty visions of being swept into the third heaven, is this declaration of weakness  perhaps where the Corinthians and Paul might paradoxically be brought back together by their common ground?

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