Images used in language are powerful. It’s hard to follow a wordy explanation. How much easier if we use an image that is easy to grasp. After a conversation we may later say to ourselves: “Oh I wish I’d thought to say that.” It would have conveyed things so much better.
Recently I got into a brief discussion about leadership. A friend and I explored what was important about leaders. For Christian ministers the leadership of Jesus is the standard set as a powerful influence and as a motivating example. It would have been a great line of argument if I’d said they needed to be a fool. Forget the jester wearing a fool’s hat, or a gullible person who is easily duped. I’m thinking of the way it is used by the Apostle Paul when teasing out what genuine Christian leadership looks like. The context is a letter in which he gives an account for his ministry due to slanderous accusations by infiltrators. These ‘superapostles’ boasted of their missionary achievements, skills in oratory, financial support, spiritual experiences and miracles performed. To them the Apostle was simply a ‘lightweight.’ Paul spoke of the authentic nature of his Christian ministry, by boasting of the very things that made him appear weak but which threw him back on to God: ‘receive me just as you would a fool’ (II Cor 11v16). The Apostle lists his physical hardships (imprisonments, flogging, shipwrecks, hunger); psychological pressure due to his responsibility for the churches; personal indignity; and a painful ongoing restriction on his life, ‘a thorn in the flesh’ (12v7). It all looks unimpressive, doesn’t it? But, it pulled the rug from underneath the celebrity culture of his day. Their superficial success led to prideful boasting: when they preached you heard a lot about themselves, but so little about the Lord Jesus! Instead, Paul was aware that in the midst of his weaknesses, God’s strategy could be seen. It is not a question of put on a brave face and battle through, but that in our weaknesses God’s grace is at work. When we are weak then God is strong.
After a month in which the new Archbishop of Canterbury has taken up his post, we should consider once again whether we have a fool for a leader? Let’s pray that the answer is yes, so long as it is in the sense the Apostle uses!