One of Christianity’s radical assertions is up in this morning’s Liturgy of the Hours,
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 9b-10, NAB)
When I think about the Prophet Elijah, I don’t think of “weak.” He called down fire from heaven, massacred the devotees of a false God, cursed kings and queens, and rode a chariot of fire. Maybe he came on a little too strong, right?
But he discovered his God-given purpose from a position of weakness, hiding out as a fugitive while the “bad guys” seemed to be winning on every front,
And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied again, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” (I Kings 13b-14, ESV)
Boo friggin’ hoo, Elijah. But in this helpless, hapless place he receives divine guidance and assurance,
Then the LORD told him, “Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. Then anoint Jehu grandson of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet. Anyone who escapes from Hazael will be killed by Jehu, and those who escape Jehu will be killed by Elisha! Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” (verses 15-18)
Elijah also performed a compassionate miracle from a position of great weakness. Hiding out (he did that a lot), relying on others to provide for him from what little they had during a famine, he seemed anything but strong. And then things got worse,
After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” (I Kings 17:17-20 ESV)
What a pathetic situation. He’s living off of this afflicted family, and now they are looking at him as the source of their latest tragedy. Elijah even perceives God as an adversary at this point. The whole world seems out of control, overrun by forces against which Elijah stands powerless.
So he does the weakest thing possible – he begs,
Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” (verses 21-24)
It’s significant that Elijah says, “See, your son lives.” I would have been tempted to say, “Look! Look! I made it all better! See what I did for you?” But Elijah knows his own weakness and insufficiency, and accepts what God alone could do.
To “boast in weakness” is to praise God. It is to look honestly at all the failures and foibles of our lives and still be giddy with wonder at all the good that God brings forth in and through us. When we are weak, we are strong, because we’ve left off exerting our puny powers and allowed what Dante called “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” to work through us.