Never Let Them See You Sweat
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Jeremiah R. Grosse
Reproduced with Permission

This morning's reading from Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians presents us with a rather counter-cultural message. Showing weakness is not highly regarded in any culture. In fact, we tend to live by the motto, "Never let 'em see you sweat".

Paul tells that he was given a "thorn in the flesh" to stop him from becoming too proud. For centuries, scholars have wondered, "What was this thorn given to Paul?" Some have said that it might have been that he stuttered, others have said that he may have been tempted by lust, and others have speculated about various other things.

Each of us having some thorn in our flesh; however, few, in any of us, would brag about this thorn as though it was a badge of honor. I cannot imagine any teenager saying, "I rejoice in the fact that I have attention deficit disorder" or someone saying, "My weight has been a problem all of my life and I am so thrilled about that." In fact, people who would boast about these things would be looked at rather strangely. These are the types of things that most people would keep hidden from others for various reasons, including the fact that they might not be accepted by others if anyone else knew what they were going through.

We live in a culture which attempts to teach us that perfection, in this life, is a reality. Women are bombarded with images of models that are pencil thin and are made to feel like there is something wrong with them if they do not fit someone else's criteria of what the perfect female should look like.

Paul tells us that three times he asked God to remove this thorn, but God said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore, Paul is content to boast of his weakness in order that the power of God may dwell in him. He is content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints for the sake of Christ.

To say that God made use of Paul's gifts and talents is an understatement. By the grace of God the churches in Ephesus, Corinth, Galatia, and Thessalonica owe their founding to Paul. It was Paul who gave the Church its first catechism, of sorts, in the Letter to the Romans. We have no physical description of Paul, so it is possible that he might have had some physical issue which he may have felt was an impediment, but he finally accepted it as a gift from God.

Anyone familiar with the Alcoholic Anonymous movement understands quite well what it means to be plagued by a thorn in the flesh and that power is made perfect in weakness. The twelve steps of recovery in the AA movement begin with the following admission: I admit I am powerless over my addiction - that my life has become unmanageable. It is when someone finally comes to that point in their lives that they are able to admit they are powerless over their addiction that they have reached the point where they can begin the healing process.

People who either refuse to admit or cannot admit to themselves that they need help are not in a position to have their weakness turned into power. The Lord Jesus is prepared to do for us what he did for St. Paul, as long as we, like Paul, acknowledge our need for Him.

Paul tells us that this thorn was sent to him, he believed, to prevent him from becoming too elated with the abundance of revelations which he had received from God.

God sends us trials or thorns in our lives so that we keep in mind His words that apart from me you can do nothing. The Lord Jesus did not say that apart from Me you can do a few things, He said that we do nothing apart from Him.

Those who have never experienced such thorns can go through life believing that they can rely upon their own strength and intellect, so they have no need for God. The only reason that Paul's boasting makes any sense is because of the Cross of Christ. It was on the Cross that God Himself became weak for our sake and the power of God raised Him up again on the third day. It is for this reason that we can glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We too should be content with whatever comes our way for the sake of Christ, for when we are weak; then we are strong.