Weakness versus the power. That is what Paul is talking about when he addresses the transformation of weakness into power. For Paul it is the power of the Gospel that allows him to even boast about his own weaknesses. And there are many. First, there was some kind of illness, the thorn in his side that never seemed to wholly relent. Then, however Paul is seen, he saw himself as weak and vulnerable. Even his weakness is somewhat of a boast, a confidence, that in his weakness those in the budding faith community would see that their faith did not reside in his or any person’s wisdom or power, not in talk, but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1-5)
The word power is often heard as subjugation of one person over another. Conquest. It implies domination, abuse of authority and especially violence. Power is strength. Might. But here we might look at power simply defined as the ability to act. For Paul it is his weakness that gives him the power, empowers him to act on behalf of faith in Jesus Christ. This is what he meant when he said the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Cor. 4) Paul knew talk could often be much ado about nothing. For Jesus, too, his stories were showing not telling. If we do not live the gospel it is meaningless. What we do matters more than what we say. That is why it seems Paul’s insistence on behavior that matched faith in Christ.
Paul’s ultimate example of weakness is Christ crucified. He was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God. (2 Cor. 13).
Paul saw his weakness, the weakness of Jesus on the cross and our own to be the way through which the power of God, the empowerment of grace, reveals itself. For Jesus it meant the transformation of death into life. Death as the ultimate weakness, the ultimate powerlessness. The power of Death over Life. The Romans and Jewish authorities had had their power over him. Strangely the man who told his disciples to go out and preach taking their swords with them so as to defend themselves if necessary, did not resist when swords were drawn against him. This kind of power could be a Mobius strip of unrelenting evil that promulgates suffering rather than God’s reign. The kingdom would not come by the sword. God would not sit on a throne as a powerful deity, but reign in the empty manger of our hearts.
The true use of power is empowerment born from a sense of justice. Justice the meeting of heaven’s purpose on earth. The place of Jesus’ greatest weakness is the place of greatest strength. His humanity the opening channel to the sacred. The journey through vulnerability is where valor is born, a steadfast spirit forged in the fire. From his marginal place, from his powerlessness, from the cross, by way of his humanity he became diminished and raised, both servant and savior, a shepherd-messiah to the small, the weak, the powerless, where he pastures us into God’s open vista, that vulnerability an opening channel to the strength of God in Christ in our lives.