academics all have something called a “curriculum vitae”
– a form of resume listing our training, our faculty and administrative
appointments, the papers we have written, the grants we have successfully
competed for, the honors and prizes we have received . . . We use
a CV to support job searches or requests for promotion, or just
as a way to keep score.
N.T. Wright, the great New Testament scholar, has suggested that
when we next revise our CV, we produce an inverse version instead
– grants I failed to get, articles or stories I never could
get published, jobs I didn’t get, prizes I was put up for
but didn’t win, etc. It might help us stay grounded in reality.
Wright says that that is what Paul was doing in this section of
2 Corinthians – not however as an exercise in humility, but
as a means to rescue his Corinthian converts from flying off on
yet another of their wild tangents.
Status meant a lot in the first century Mediterranean world, and
the Corinthian Christians didn’t have much. As Paul himself
reminded them elsewhere, “not many of you are high born or
wealthy or wise . . .” To make matters worse, they belonged
to a strange sect that worshipped an executed criminal. Paul writes
this section of the letter because, while he was in prison in Ephesus,
he heard that the Corinthian community had been visited by other
Christian evangelists, who had more polish, eloquence, and class
than did he, Paul. They seemed to offer the Corinthians the prospect
of greater respectability and status.
Paul knows that, as a Christian, you cannot stray far from the shadow
of the cross. He does not keep score the way the Corinthians were
tempted to do. To some, the crucifixion was perhaps better set aside
– at most, an unfortunate past event, not a current reality.
But Paul claims preeminence as a minister of the Gospel precisely
because of his defeats, punishments, and tribulations. This inverse
CV leads him to the tremendous insight, which we will read in tomorrow’s
Scriptures, that “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul abases himself before his Corinthians, not to scold or ridicule
them, but to help them understand what really matters.
Two millennia later, there are several responses we might want to
consider. One is an admiration for Paul, both for his pastoral skill
and for his manifest willingness to do absolutely anything to support
the spiritual welfare of his children in Christ. Second we may want
to explore how important status is for us and what compromises with
Christian values we have already made and might be prepared to make
to sustain the esteem of those around us. Perhaps most important,
we, like Paul, have our own failures and defeats, and, instead of
licking our wounds we can, also like Paul, become wounded healers,
focusing all of our energies on the welfare of our brothers and
sisters – strong for them precisely because of our own weakness
– strong because it is the strength of Christ.