14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Simham)
THORN IN THE FLESH
If you watch some of the Christian channels on T.V and also some of the churches services and prayer groups, you’ll see lot of importance being given to “TESTIMONIES”. You know what ‘testimonies’ are? They call out some people who were healed or whose problems were solved to come out and give witness. Often these people say, ‘I had this problem or sickness and I asked so and so to pray for me, and here I am healed or problem solved. Praise the Lord!’ Some of these channels and ministries seem try to thrive on testimonies. I am not here to comment on them or criticise them. But what I want to say is that life is not often as simple or as wonderful as that. Life is not as simple as 2+2=4 formula. You have a problem or you have a sickness and you go and pray to God and he solves the problem or he heals the sickness. Our experiences show that it is not often the case. Life is not as simple or as easy as that. That is what Paul is teaching us today in the second reading. In fact the other two readings too speak about the same thing.
In the first reading, God is not telling prophet Ezekiel that he sending him to a people who will listen to him and everything will be smooth. No. He tells him, “I am sending you to the rebels. ..They are defiant and obstinate.” And in the Gospel, when Jesus proclaims the word in his home town, he is not welcomed and appreciated for his wisdom, but he is denounced and ridiculed as the son of a carpenter. Life is not as smooth as we expect or as we hear in testimonies.
Look at the testimony of St. Paul in the second reading from his second letter to Corinthians. He has a problem. He refers to it as ‘thorn in the flesh.’ What is this thorn in the flesh? The ‘thorn’ is an image of a problem, and suggests something raw and painful- a constant nagging thing, which is impossible to ignore. It is something which should n’t be there but is there. It is extremely annoying and makes you angry. It may be quiet a small thing. But small thorns can be extremely painful. What is this nagging thing then for Paul.
Basing on other references, some scripture scholars say that ‘it can be some physical ailment which Paul suffered often. William Barclay says it is the stomach-ache he had often. Others say that it is something to do with his eyes. And some scholars say that it is some human weakness in him. It may be some addiction or some compulsion etc. And another group of scholars say that it can be some enemies or false prophets who constantly oppose him and question his authority as an apostle. Paul does not clearly say what it is. But one thing is sure, that he has a problem which he does not like or deserve as an apostle.
What does he do? Like any of us, he appeals to the Lord asking him to take it away or remove it. Unfortunately this does not happen. The Lord says, “My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.” Stunning response which Paul never expected. Left Paul speechless and humble. But it has got a great lesson for Paul and for us.
In a way Paul was saying “Lord, after all I am doing your work. And this problem or pain is a hindrance to do your work. So remove it for your own sake so that I can do more of your work.” But God is trying to tell him, “Paul, remember that it is not that you are doing a great favour for me by doing my work and so I need to return the favour to you, but it is me who is doing my work and accomplishing my mission through you the earthen vessel. It is not that you are changing the whole world for me but it me who is changing the world through you, in spite of your weakness. It is only when you are weak and vulnerable my grace shines in you. Lest you may think you are doing all this with your own strength. When you are weak and doing all this then you will understand that it is my grace that is accomplishing all these great things that you do.
That is the hard lesson Paul has to learn in his life. That is the lesson that keeps him humble. How often we have felt that God needs to do this or that for us because we do so much for him. How often we thought that because we say lots of prayers or do lots of church work, etc God needs to favour us when we ask him for something. How many times we have asked why this to me a regular church goer or confessor? Why can’t God favour me? Ask Paul the same thing and he will tell you that because God is favouring you, you have all that. God’s grace is shining in you, in all your weaknesses or sicknesses. In spite of all those afflictions, if you go on doing what you are doing, you are a living witness of God’s grace. That is the lesson today. Amen.
Fr. Showreelu Simham