Sunday, August 8, 2004

2 Corinthians 11:21b–31

Why does Paul trot out these punishments? He wants to shame the rich and secure church in Corinth to realize that he has far more claim than others on their attention.

Isn’t this the politics of victimization? Paul is saying Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant? His point, indeed, is that he suffers for the sake of all, and in this he is conformed to Christ, and in that, he has a claim upon the Corinthians for their attention, and obedience.

But isn’t this the politics of victimization? Does being beat up really make you better? It is certainly rhetorically effective. But we resist (or do we?) this kind of argument, precisely because we know it’s a matter of trotting out one’s injuries as if they made one’s message true. Such is, indeed, a non sequitur.

So is Paul just using a rhetorical trick? (I don’t believe he’s above that, when it is the right thing to do, by the way.) I don’t think he is. I think he’s saying something rather more interesting, and maybe even important. God’s favor is not measured by whether one is rich, important, well-respected, or powerful. Note how he concludes: Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant? It is because Paul is identifying with the pain of all: when anyone is weak, he is weakened, when anyone stumbles, it is Paul who is indignant.

That is, he has identified himself with the sufferings and trials of others, and (assuming we take him at his word in this) he is thereby worthy of the respect and even obedience which he demands of the Corinthians.

But why is that so? Even supposing he does, isn’t he just like Clinton, saying “I feel your pain”? No. Because the problem with Clinton is that he didn’t feel others’ pain: he understood it, empathized with it, wanted to alleviate it, but he didn’t actually feel it. Paul, however, says the he does feel it.

And if that makes no sense, then the cross must be emptied of power. Paul is (see the whole chapter here) saying that if you want to distinguish the true apostles from the false, you can tell by seeing who suffers along with everyone, and who holds themselves apart from that suffering.

And at this point, I submit, we see the problem with the anti-gay folks. Secure in their righteousness, confident in their rightness, they inflict suffering on gay people. They tell themselves that this suffering is necessary; that it will only make gay people better (by encouraging them to become straight, I suppose, is how it’s supposed to go)--and by falling back on the statement that they aren’t causing the suffering, but gay people bring it on themselves, or in the alternative, that it is God’s righteous punishment. But admidst it all, we see no willingness on their part to share in the suffering. And this, I believe, exposes them as the false apostles they are.

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