The power of weakness

Typically the word “power” conjures up images of strength, control or even force – anything but weakness. Power is heady; it makes us feel we are capable and strong. We speak of power as a corrupting influence because, once tasted, it feels like we need more of it – like a drug that makes us feel good about ourselves and capable of effecting necessary change. Weakness does the opposite, reminding us of powerlessness, of being incapable and helpless, unable to accomplish anything that would command respect or admiration from others.
And yet we, as Christ followers, know there is great power in weakness. In fact, we know that God’s invitation to us is learning to be weak rather than learning to be powerful. Of course the kind of weakness we are invited to emulate is not passive. It can look passive, as Christ must have looked, for instance, when onlookers at his crucifixion concluded he was too weak to save himself from this intolerable fate. But instead, passive power, or active weakness – the combination of these two seeming opposites – is very intentional, rewarding without being addictive and commanded as the lifestyle Jesus modeled for his disciples and for us.

Nations of the world are increasingly aware that the power of force is extremely limited for accomplishing peace in the world. So too is the power of revenge, the exercise of economic power or any other coercive power still being employed with less and less conviction for a good outcome. Wars and terror continue to wreak havoc and suffering but no one is convinced any longer that the cost will equal the eventual benefit.

Passive but intentional
For this reason, when news media reported recently Pope Francis had invited Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli president Shimon Peres to a “new journey” for peacemaking – that is, a prayer meeting – news outlets expressed not only incredulity but also a sense of hope that Pope Francis was on to something. And of course, he is. Pope Francis understands who Christ is and he desires to be an obedient follower of this Christ, and the world took notice.

This should inspire all of us and especially those of us who agree that the only power we can effectively yield in the name of Christ is the passive but intentional power of weakness. It is a mistake to think that only popes and presidents can effect real change. Everyone exerts influence on their surroundings by who they are and what they do in any given situation. Whether your sphere of influence is small or large is immaterial. If we harbour anger or jealousy or greed within us, it will be felt by those around us and have an impact. If instead we get rid of malice, etc. and cultivate a spirit of forgiveness, love, joy and all the other things the Holy Spirit (and Paul of the Scriptures) invites us to develop, the bond of peace will be extended to all those we come in contact with.

Good things begin somewhere and have a way of radiating outward – like a pebble dropped in a still pond. May God bless Pope Francis as he chose to exercise his influence, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, by organizing something as simple as a prayer meeting with other figures of powerful influence. He took the chance of being rebuffed and of being ridiculed by inviting fellow leaders to this seemingly powerless course of action, after peace talks through diplomatic channels had failed. May this invitation to Palestine and Israel, and by extension the rest of the world, lead all countries to embark on a new path of peace. I also pray that Christians everywhere will join this pope by intentionally and prayerfully incorporating acts of weakness such as forgiveness and patience as part of our lifestyle, with an attitude of humility and simplicity, in order to promote peace whereever we are, with whomever we come into contact.

  • Judy Cook is a family therapist who lives in Hamilton, Ont.

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