The subversive power of weakness
‘Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.’
On Monday 26th August I witnessed this in action…..
I was sitting in a rather damp marquee at Greenbelt Festival. It had the feeling of the morning after the night before – or rather morning after the day before, which had seen at least 6 hours of unbroken rain. Something you never experience in Scotland!
About 400 of us emerged from our sleeping bags to listen to a quietly spoken women, about 60 years of age tell us how, when she was 27 her Dad was killed by a bomb that exploded in a hotel, in Brighton. The bomb had been planted by IRA terrorists and their target was the Tory party conference. Her Dad was a Tory MP attending the conference and staying in the hotel. The man who went to prison for the crime was called Patrick Magee and he was sitting on the platform beside the woman as she spoke. Her name was Jo.
Jo told us how on the day she learnt of her father’s death she went into a church in London and lit a candle and made a promise that she would try to understand why someone would do such a terrible thing to her lovely dad, because that was who he was to her.
She then set about understanding the political struggles of Northern Ireland and the ways in which people like Patrick Magee were responding. She travelled to Ireland and met dozens of people who told her their stories and listened to hers. Then in 1999 Patrick Magee was released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, having served 14years of his life sentence. Jo asked to meet him.
She then described how a meeting was arranged. The meeting took three hours and from that day she and Patrick have spoken publicly on over a hundred and fifty occasions, on a shared platform; their desire? To demonstrate how it is through talking, through seeking one another’s humanity in humility and in empathy that we find in our hands the most powerful weapon in the midst of conflict.
There was power in the tent that morning – extraordinary power.
It was the power of weakness, humility, the power of vulnerability, empathy and it went way beyond simple forgiveness.
‘Who is wise and understanding among you?’ – The letter of James asks?
Those whose works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.
The letter goes on to distinguish between earthly and heavenly wisdom and how because we are but flesh and bone there is a tension between what is in may ways instinctive to us – envy, bitterness, selfishness ambition and how the work of the spirit of God leads us to recognise the wisdom of God, which is peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits.
What we witnessed in that tent on that damp Monday morning was nothing short of what James describes in his letter as ‘a harvest of righteousness, sown in peace for those who make peace’.
And in our Gospel the Disciples are having a Master class in it!
A disciple’s life will mirror the one to whom they are committed. Instead of leaping to examples of Messianic glory and power, they needed recognise that Jesus the Messiah first and foremost is anticipated to suffer at the hands of the worlds power.
For Jesus, the journey to true power is one that leads through betrayal and death before resurrection hope can be born.
The Cross is this Kings throne – the supreme symbol of the subversive power of weakness.
It was of course a Master Class that they were spectacularly failing grasp.
Not just once, but twice they fall silent – when the don’t understand and when the realise mistaken they are….
In one sense we cannot blame them – the world they inhabited had very clear ideas about the exercise of power – the occupying forces of Rome demonstrated it every day – and the history of their own people had been characterised by the pursuit of power, by might.
Any Messianic expectation they had, certainly didn’t include suffering and death.
Little wonder that among themselves they were josling over who was the top dog.
Not to be discouraged by their ignorance, Jesus draws their attention to the perfect visual aid. A child, the least important member of the community, second only to the servant class.
What does true greatness look like in the Kingdom of God? it looks like a servant, it looks like someone who welcomes a child…..
It looks like a person with power emptying themselves of it, in an act of humility.
It looks like the daughter of a murdered man pursuing reconciliation with his killer.
It looks like a man who thought violence was the only way, speaking publicly about discovering a better way.
It looks like those everyday moment, when choices are made by ordinary human beings, that demonstrate a gentleness born of wisdom. That demonstrate the subversive and inspiring power of weakness.
When you see it – you see it everywhere, in every conversation, every relationship and you can begin to see how it can penetrate the mess of the world and bring healing and transformation –
Walter Bruggeman Writes: There is an insistence in the life of Jesus, that innocence gives power, that inhumanity is not a safe policy, that honesty is required of reality, and that things must be called by their right names. Jesus got himself killed because he exposed the false ordering of power that paid no attention to the little ones, and the servants among whom he counted himself.
I love a bit of Youtubing! (often when I am supposed to be writing sermons!)
I recently came across one entitled:
Experiencing EnChroma Glasses for the First Time
I commend it to you….
EnChroma glasses are designed for people who are colour blind.
The video clip on youtube showed person after person, all of whom had been colour blind from birth, being given a pair of EnChroma glasses for the first time.
Invariably every person was blown away by what they saw.
Many wept – even the big guys….
One, a teenager on putting on the glasses said:
‘Is this what the world looks like? Really? No way – it’s beautiful’
Someone had posted in the comments section –
‘It reminds me of when I first became a Christian – the world suddenly looked completely different. It was beautiful and full of hope.’
C.S Lewis put is like this:
‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not because I see it, but because by it I see everything’.
Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom
Want to be powerful? Then let’s start by becoming weak….