Yoder-Short: Boasting of inferiority

Sep 25, 2017 by

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“If you’d have known his grandma’s family, you’d understand his actions.” The conversation was making me uncomfortable. Then it happens again. A different family is assessed: “Stubbornness shows up in multiple generations in that family.”

Jane Yoder-Short


They could be talking about my family, my odd aunt or my grandma’s temper. We innocently start out trying to understand people and end up discrediting them. We subtly slide into indirectly boasting of our family’s superiority.

Families are important, but John, son of Zechariah, reminds his well-bred audience that God can make descendants of Abraham from stones. A family name isn’t going to gain you status with God (Luke 3:8).

We live in a world of boastings and putdowns. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we are better than others: They talk with an accent. They look quirky. They’re overeducated or undereducated. They aren’t winners.

Boasting and discrediting others is nothing new. Paul deals with this in Corinth. Some super-apostles, as Paul sarcastically calls them, are belittling him (2 Cor. 11:5). These opponents see themselves as eloquent, obedient to the law and handsome in contrast to Paul, who appears weak and lacking sophisticated speech (2 Cor. 10:10).

Paul has enough of the putdowns. He flips the conversation by boasting about his inferiority. He may not be the best speaker, but he has knowledge (2 Cor. 11:6). His body may not look like someone who works out in the gym, but he has the marks of faithfulness, the scars of beatings. Paul boasts about jail time, sleepless nights and being hungry and thirsty.

Beatings and jail time are not usual bravado. Whipping is a dishonor. Slaves and criminals are beaten. Paul insists, “I am weak. I will boast of things that show my weakness” (2 Cor. 11:30). The weaknesses Paul boasts about are connected with the hardships endured because of his faithfulness to Jesus.

God using the weak and the underdog runs through the Bible. God reminds Samuel that “the Lord does not see as mortals see” (1 Sam. 16:7). Paul says worldly standards ceased to count in our assessment of a person (2 Cor. 5:16). That is hard. We like handsome. We like winners. We like certain popular families. We hang onto mixed measurements for determining a person’s worth.

When teachers have high expectations, students do better. What would happen in our congregations if we stopped seeing each other through the lens of family labels and worldly standards? What would happen if we held high expectations of everyone?

Behind Paul’s snarky response, we see sadness. Paul is worried about the Corinthian church. People are taking advantage of this congregation. People are falling prey to another Jesus, another spirit, another gospel. If this continues, what will happen to this church?

We, too, care about our congregations. We feel sad when the church is pulled in different directions. We worry about which voices the church follows. We worry about what will happen if our view of church isn’t heard.

We all pervert the gospel in some ways. We all have beams in our eyes and skeletons in our ancestry closet. But we have a new family. In this new family, Jesus is the heart of our boasting. As Jesus becomes our focus, we start to see each other through a shadow of loving grace.

Next time we hear a family berated, can we flip the conversation? We don’t need to be as snarky as Paul, but we can communicate the cost of labeling others. Some of us can even throw in a boast about our family’s lack of social standing.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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