In the Epistle Reading for Sunday, October 15, 2017, (II Corinthians 11:29-12:9) the Apostle Paul speaks of a thorn (“skolopos” in Greek) in the flesh (12:7) that on three separate occasions he pleaded with the Lord might depart from him (12:8). A messenger of Satan, the Apostle referred to this thorn as (12:7).
Academic literature on the subject of Paul’s thorn is enormous; speculation is considerable, ranging from epilepsy and depression, to malaria, poor vision, or chronic sickness. That Paul stuttered has been conjectured as well.
What follows is a strange passage, that Christ’s assurance that his grace is sufficient for Paul, and that his strength is made perfect in weakness (12:10).
Paul replies, “Therefore, I will boast in my infirmities. I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10).
Certainly, this is one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture.
Yet, how strange, how different this is how we normally go through life where we always attempt to make ourselves look better than we are, where are mistakes are hidden, where the list of our accomplishments gets lengthier each day; and where we continually celebrate the American Ideal: the self-made man or woman. Obituaries written at the time of our death will often take care of what we might have missed during our own earthly life of self-promotion.
Boast of our weaknesses? Not on your life.
Practicing Christian are fully aware of the free gift of God’s grace of which no man has a right to lay claim to; it is, instead, God’s favor, God’s blessing, God’s inherited mercy which he freely bestows upon us.
Divine grace is God’s influence which operates in order to regenerate, to sanctify, to inspire Christian virtues, and also to strengthen the inner man to overcome temptations and to endure the trials of daily life.
There alone is one condition for receiving God’s grace, and to even recognize that it is grace, and not something of our own doing; and that is a deep, personal, and intimate relationship with Christ that we are all called to enter in to. Being attentive to the spiritual life, and cultivating a daily life of prayer, assists greatly in this spiritual exercise.
Like Paul, we can all lay claim to a thorn (skolopos) in the flesh, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual. Yet, we are comforted, and even strengthened, in knowing that God’s grace is sufficient, and that even in our weakness, the power of Christ to heal, and to save, is real and possible.
-- V. Rev. Marc Vranes