The Reading from the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians 11:31-12:9
We live in a society and in a world that is addicted to power. Even governments enjoy access to power and the ability to force their citizens to do whatever it is that they deem appropriate. When someone cannot get their way in a certain matter, they often resort to force and the exercise of power to change the outcome in their favor.
St. Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthian Christians during a difficult time in his life. He had problems with some of the people in his communities. Often these problems would arise when he left a particular city and community that he had just founded. Influential men within these communities would see his absence as a sign that they might be able to grow in power and they would take the opportunity to also teach that which is false concerning the gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, all the while demeaning and speaking ill of the great apostle to the gentiles.
With this as a background we see that in today’s epistle the apostle Paul writes some very profound words. These are words that each and every one of us must live by. He writes,
“And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Sometimes it happens in our lives that God blesses us with gifts. In the case of St. Paul he was given many gifts including the gift of healing and teaching and also the gift of receiving divine revelations and communing with God directly through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because of all of these gifts, the Lord allowed St. Paul certain difficulties in life in order that he might not grow prideful and fall.
We do not know the exact meaning of the “thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan” to which he refers but some of the holy fathers suggest that it was the difficult people who stood opposed to his teaching of the gospel and tried to undermine his authority as an apostle. Again we see this as a power play. Sadly this still goes on and is happening even in some of the churches where parish councils are pitted against priests and vice-versa. This should not happen in because the Church does not belong to either the priest or the council but it is the house of the living God. Everyone enters in order to serve and if possible to put themselves lower than the others. No one comes to the church to look for their own benefit but in order to worship and serve God and to love one another with a holy and divine love.
St. Paul shares with us the word which he received directly from God and which is given to us as a corrective medicine. We must take this medicine daily if we want to grow in Christ. The Lord spoke to St. Paul with these words “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my power (strength) is made perfect in weakness.” What beauty and elegance and majesty we are privileged to receive along with the apostle!
St. Paul had real troubles, real suffering and he prayed to God with real tears for real deliverance from his troubles. That ought to sound familiar to us. Each of us has prayed in this way and at times we find that God offers deliverance and other times the Lord allows a particular difficulty to remain in our lives. Perhaps He is allowing it for the same reason that it remained in the life of St. Paul “to harrass us, to keep us from getting too puffed up.” God in His mercy allows His children some mild difficulties in order to keep them from getting prideful, boastful and arrogant. He allows them some measure of suffering in order to protect their relationship with Him. God knows that this relationship is fragile and could be lost if we lost our way through our own successes and victories. If we always won, we would feel strong, and God would become weak in our eyes and in our hearts. But God loves us too much to allow us to fall so easily. He allows us to feel weakness and to be vulnerable in order that we might reach out to Him and find real power.
We each lack certain things in life, we each want God to help with certain issues and difficulties but how often do we hear the words of the Lord “My grace is sufficient for thee?” How often do we really fall down on our face in prayer and understand and feel our weakness, our complete spiritual poverty. That is the kind of repentance that shakes not only the individual, it shakes the universe itself.
St. Isaac the Syrian once said,
“He who senses his sins, is greater than he who raises the dead with his prayer. He who groans one hour for his soul, is greater than he who benefits the whole world. He who is made worthy to see himself, is greater than he who is made worthy to see angels. To him who knows himself, is given the knowledge of all things. For the knowledge of ourselves is the fullness of knowledge of all things.”
It is just as the apostle learned from the Lord Himself…the Lord’s strength is made perfect through our weakness! Nowhere is this fact more clearly seen than in the picture of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross. We sing “He who suspended the earth upon the waters, is suspended upon a tree.” This picture is for us, the law of the Christian life. No matter how great or talented we may become, we must empty ourselves of all things and we must appear empty before God so that God will fill our emptiness and take our weakness and replace it with the true and eternal power of the Holy Spirit which can never be taken away from us. To God be the glory forever and ever AMEN.