If you’ve got a new copy of The Mockingbird Devotional, good! Turn to today, June 10, and you’ll find this meditation from our very own Will McDavid. If you don’t have a copy of The Mockingbird Devotional, well, just read below, and then purchase one for yourself, here. You won’t regret it–at least if you’ve got a little Ruby Turbin in you…
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:5-7, NRSV)
In her short story “Revelation,” Flannery O’Connor tells of an arrogant woman named Ruby, who is enamored of her racist, classist view of the world and her place in it—better than some types of people, inferior to others. It gives her a way of thinking that allows her to have self-esteem. Along comes a girl named Mary Grace, who insults her straight-on, telling her she’s a “dirty warthog from hell,” and this immediately disrupts her vision of the world. Suddenly she sees a vision of heaven with all the “freaks and lunatics” leading the procession, the last being first, the least being greatest, and herself—a “good” woman with a grateful disposition—at the rear of the parade.
We all have a worldview that helps us to feel good about ourselves, whether we view ourselves as resting at the top of the career ladder, leading in the church, or raising high-achieving, well-behaved children. This hierarchy-love has been called a “theology of glory,” a term that describes our attraction to believing things—about ourselves and the world—that elevate our position and give us clear criteria for self-justification. Paradoxically, in O’Connor’s story, it is only when Ruby is insulted and brought low that she has any true religious experience at all.
In the devil’s temptation of Jesus, we see two worldviews at work, competing for Christ’s affections. The first is the world of glory—where Christ can produce food, power, faith, and rulership—and the second is the world of the weak, where he will experience hunger, captivity, powerlessness, and death. Throughout the Bible God chooses the weak and lowly to be His vessels, and here we see God himself choosing the way of weakness, suffering, rejection, and condemnation, not only to favor the weak, but to be the weak.
Essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan says that Christ’s “breakthrough was the aestheticization of weakness. Not in what conquers, not in glory, but in what’s fragile and what suffers.” It’s impossible, as inveterate achievers, to find this paradoxical beauty of weakness for ourselves. But we can say that the beautiful aspect of Christ’s love for weakness is simply the weakness itself. Pain and suffering are not beautiful, except for the potential, unique to weakness, to be loved undeservedly. Jesus chooses weakness and becomes weakness, going so far as to “become sin,” because it is in this poverty that grace arrives (2 Cor 5:21). It is only in Christ’s choice of weakness that weakness itself is made lovely.