BROTHERS and SISTERS, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to arrest me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.
Without a doubt, it is not profitable for me to boast, but I will now discuss visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that such a person – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows – was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, that no man may repeat. On behalf of such a person I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me.
And so that I would not be too exalted because of the tremendous greatness of these revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” And so, with joy I would rather find glory in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest in me.
Thorn in the flesh and weakness that is made perfect in God's power. These are the two interesting and important themes from the given Epistle reading.
Biblical scholars have been puzzled about what exactly this thorn in Paul's flesh was. Was it a physical illness? Or maybe spiritual? Or maybe even mental? There is no consensus among the scholars, but from the context we can decipher that whatever it was, it was meant to keep Saint Paul humble, and "not be too exalted because of the tremendous greatness" of the things that were revealed to him by God and things that Paul was able to do through God's grace.
We can be sure of having such a thorn as well, which may be anything that causes us grief and suffering. These things are not necessarily inflicted by God. If we suffer it does not mean that God has abandoned us or makes us to suffer Himself. We suffer, rather, because evil still exists. It does not have an ultimate dominion over us, but evil can still inflict temporary damage. But even here, God transforms it into something that can benefit us.
Thorn in the flesh is a saving gift from the Lord. And so all trials that preserve us in humility are not to be rejected, but are to be valued as the Lord's merciful provision for us. Thorn in the flesh is a reminder that we are completely dependent on God. Can we eradicate pain and suffering from our lives? Humanity has tried it, and the answer is - no. Maybe that's because we are not supposed to get rid of it, but use it with a right purpose?
Saint Paul would say yes. And the purpose is what I already mentioned - humility and reliance on the Lord. And that's because in our weakness God's power is made perfect in us. Our suffering and weaknesses are a constant reminder that we can only continue by drawing on the Lord for strength and rely on His constant grace and mercy.
We can try to figure things out on our own, but the most we'll get is dead end of the inability to explain our existence in suffering. When we learn to rely not on our own strength and endurance, but on the Lord's, then we experience the power of Christ that rests upon us.
For last year's reflection, click here.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest