“I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting.”
2 Corinthians 11:16 (NIV)
I did a few musicals in high school against my better judgment. Most people would follow that statement with some clarifier like “It’s not that I have a problem with musicals, but –“ or maybe “Musicals are great, I just -.” Not me. I don’t like musicals. I like my theater voyeuristic, and so I never really bought into the premise that supposedly relatable people would suddenly break out into song and dance. The self-effacing ones are okay, I guess. There are a few exceptions; Les Miserables is pretty spectacular when done correctly.
But still, I fell into the theater nerd crowd early on, and so I jumped up on stage when the spring musical came around. My best friends were always the leads, and everyone admired them while simply acknowledging me – usually backed away somewhere in the chorus. I had no issues with the dynamic – it’s not like I wanted the spotlight.
So I always avoided the lobby after the show finished out. It felt disingenuous – like I would walk around in my stage make up begging everyone to tell me how great I was, even though I knew it wasn’t true. There were always the enthusiastic stage moms wandering around, throwing compliments at everyone in sight. I remember one mom… her son always landed the lead. She was the odd one out, because she refused to follow the pattern of group encouragement, telling each little performer just how amazing he or she was. Instead, she went around to the parents, telling them how amazing her son was, how much talent he had. In four years, I never once saw her give another male performer a compliment, particularly if that actor had somehow snuck a role bigger than her star son.
It drove everyone crazy, and we all talked about it. What an asshole, we thought. It was just unadulterated bragging.
The biblical word for this is “boasting,” and Paul spends over two chapters doing it. This isn’t a value judgment that I conjured up. That is his (translated) word. He says:
“Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast.” (11:18)
Interesting. Paul goes on to list all of his trials and how amazingly terrible they were. He has been “flogged more severely” and has “worked much harder” (23) He has been beaten and shipwrecked three times, pelted with stones once, and received 39 lashes five times (24-25). Do you want labor and toil and sleeplessness? (26) Look no further than Paul.
But Paul has a good reason for his word. You see, he only boasts about his weaknesses, which reveal God’s strengths. On top of that:
“I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the ‘super-apostles,’ even though I am nothing.” (12:11)
Your fault. Not the least. “Super-apostles.”
I like the idea that we are at our strongest when we are actually our weakest – that weakness in itself is an overlooked state of being – that maybe we can learn something from being the least.
But something feels wrong about the delivery here. Seems sort of like a mom talking about how awesome her son was in a school play.