What do we have to boast about? What are we to boast about? I mean, what do we amount to that would justify a boast?
We normally think of people boasting as lavishing praise on themselves, perhaps praising themselves for their achievements or expressing annoying pride in something personal to them -- something they have or someone they know. People might boast of their wisdom, their power or their nobility; and it's normally boring.
So should we then be boasting at all? Isn't it all rather unpleasant and vulgar and best avoided? It's easy to think that no one should boast at all, especially when we are called to be humble, as we read in our first reading from the prophet Zephaniah: 'Seek humility.'
St Paul doesn't seem to have a problem with boasting. At least not boasting in itself. It all comes down to what we have to boast about.
Paul is clear that we don't have anything at all to boast about, at least not before God. And we know that no human being can boast in the presence of God, because God has disregarded anything natural we might have to boast about. Instead he made a choice for those who had nothing to boast about -- the first Christians at Corinth to whom Paul was writing had no wisdom, power or nobility by any worldly standards.
There's nothing we have to boast about before God, and the reason is that there is an infinite distance between ourselves and our Creator. Nothing we have of ourselves can purchase him for us, nothing can demand his attention, nothing can require his grace. The difference between mere creatures and their Creator is too great.
For one thing our sinfulness has damaged us, and our acts fall woefully short of God's law of love. And yet, even if we were sinless, nothing human we could do would demand his grace, require him for ourselves. Our limited creatureliness and our finitude, however good they might be in themselves, would see to that. Not even human goodness can make a claim on a gift that comes from beyond our limited nature.
All this God proves to us by his choice of those who are foolish and powerless in the eyes of the world. And yet by his gift, by his grace, God gives us something to boast about. He gives us himself. He gives himself to us in Christ, and he comes to dwell in hearts, our lives, our thoughts and our actions. And God is worth the boast.
God's love, his goodness, is without limits and is worthy of all praise. He is worth every boast. And now we can boast about this gift, because it is ours, he is ours -- he is given to us. Paul says that Christ has become our wisdom, ourrighteousness, oursanctification, and ourredemption. By his own free gift God has become ours, and so is ours to boast of. Let him who boasts, says St Paul, boast of the Lord!
So boasting is possible, but do we need to do it? If boasting in general is unpleasant and vulgar, is boasting of the Lord any better? Should we really be boasting of wisdom, greatness and might, even if its God's?
Perhaps we do. Remember that our human goodness could make no demands on God, could require nothing of him. What, though, of the divine goodness that has been given to us? Does it make demands? Truly it does make demands, and it can do so in all justice. The goodness of God demands our praise, the goodness of God expressed in nature and the goodness of God given us in grace, the goodness of God simply as it is. It requires the praise of our mouths and the worship of our lives, the blessed and demanding life Jesus portrays for us in the Sermon on the Mount.
Of course God will not suffer if we fail to praise him. God is perfectly fulfilled in his own grasp of his own goodness -- nothing can take away from his perfect beatitude. If we fail to praise God, we are the ones who will suffer, because we risk losing the gift God has given us. If God is within us, we need to nurture this gift, nurture it by our praise, our faith, hope and love.
So let us boast by praising not ourselves but God, not for anything we have of ourselves but for what he has given us! Let our hearts and our minds nurture his gifts, until he grants us our reward, that we may sing his praise for ever in heaven!