As our 4th of July weekend draws to a close, we have a somewhat providential reading from St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. St. Paul has opened chapter 12 talking about the visions and revelations with which he has been blessed. But then he says that in order that he not become conceited, God has given him a thorn in the flesh.
What was this "thorn"? We have no idea. Most likely it was some kind of chronic condition, something physically painful, because he goes on to describe it as an "angel of Satan to beat me."
What we do know is that he says three time (three being one of the great symbolic numbers in the Bible) he begged the Lord to take it away, but God did not. Instead of removing the thorn God teaches him to understand it in a new way.
Sufficient for you is my grace, because power is made perfect in weakness
We live in a world obsessed with power. We want to believe we are the most powerful country and the world, and when we see signs of loosing that power or we see situations in which we are powerless, we are overcome with fear and anger. And yet, like some many other concepts, St. Paul transforms the concept of power.
According to St. Paul, true power only reaches it's goal, perfection, through weakness, asthenia. The word can refer to physical or mental weakness, sickness, feebleness. It simple physics. You cannot fill a container that is already full. Only where there is a lack, an emptiness is there room for something else.
We all too easily try to fill our own emptiness. We attempt to hide our weaknesses, our flaws. We mask them with hubris. Instead of being full of God's grace, we become full of ourselves. St. Paul learned to do just the opposite. He says,
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses
He knows that his weaknesses are precisely the places that God can fill with grace. And here we reach perhaps the most difficult words of St. Paul for us to embrace.
Sufficient for you is my grace.
Can any of us really say these words and mean them? Can we let go of our need for stuff? Can we let go of our need for the approval of others and allow God's grace to be enough.