Subtitle: A living lesson (or a lesson by which to live)
Paul, criticized by those he considers charlatans, who, in proclaiming the Christian gospel, foremost, tout their credentials, writes to the Christians in the city of Corinth, making his case for his apostleship.
He could have done as they, hyping:
His magnificent lineage. As I imagine him writing (which is another way of saying what I would have written!), “I come from a long, notable line of ancestors and I’ve been to the finest schools and I’ve been tutored by the greatest teachers!” or
His mastery of hardship. Again, as I imagine it, “I’ve been through it all! More than any of you! To paraphrase the spiritual, ‘Nobody, not you, not anyone, save Jesus, knows the troubles I’ve seen!” or
His marvelous visions. Once again, as I imagine it, “I’ve seen things; heavenly, out-of-this-world revelations! Therefore, I know things far surpassing anyone’s experience or knowledge!”
Paul alludes to all of these.(1) Yet, in describing, demonstrating the elemental nature of spiritual authority, he boasts of only one. “To keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh.”(2)
Paul doesn’t identify this “thorn” that kept him humble, indeed, true to his name (which, in its Latin form, Paulus, means “small” or “insignificant”). So, what was it? A physical ailment, whether momentary and moderate or chronic and intense? A psychic distress? An interpersonal dilemma? All, none, some (a combination) of the above?
I don’t know. However, I am clear that Paul, through his experience of this “thorn,” learned, from the very lips of the Lord, an insight that, at first reading, seems a conundrum, a resounding riddle: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”(3)
As I interpret this, Paul, in recognizing and accepting his weakness (insufficient physical strength, incomplete knowledge, even irresolute faith and more), in other words, natural human, thus, inescapable limitations, learned, by faith, to rely on God’s presence and power. To what end? That he, emancipated from the prison of his self, might serve others.
Today, I ask myself: Who are the charlatans? I think of anyone who, when enticed, as all humans are and can be, yields to the temptation to wield power – institutional, financial, political, social, or personal – chiefly, if not solely, for egoïstic ends.
As “anyone” includes me (and, here, on the 16th day of the new year, after several rounds of contemplation and though late to the annual exercise of making resolutions, this is my personal pledge for 2020), I pray that, by God’s grace, Paul’s truth is being perfected (brought to completion) in me that I can live liberated from any desire or need to command or control, to dominate or demonize any other living soul. All so that my service to, for, with others can be faithful, full, and free.
(1) See 2 Corinthians 11.21b-12.4
(2) 2 Corinthians 12.7a. “To keep me from being too elated” (Paul’s subtext, as I imagine it) “by all of the things – magnificent lineage, mastery of hardship, marvelous visions – of which I, legitimately, may and can claim!”
(3) 2 Corinthians 12.9
Illustration: The Apostle Paul (1657), Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)