Reading for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Peace be with you!
Individuals tend to boast about their strengths. People analyze their resumes and cover letters when applying for jobs in hopes to showcase their best selves. We boast when we accomplish a difficult task, like biking one hundred miles, finishing a home improvement project, or publishing a book. We are all guilty of boasting about our accomplishments to self-promote ourselves. I am guilty of telling people I am a New Testament scholar when I meet them. We boast about what we excel at doing.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul addresses the “super-apostles” who are claiming they have special authority from the Lord. Apostle Paul challenges the “super-apostles’” credentials: being born with the right religious, ethnic, or Christian heritage (2 Corinthians 11:22-29). Lois Malcolm writes, “The proclamation that ‘Christ is Lord’ makes us ‘slaves’ to one another ‘for Jesus’ sake’: it cannot be used — without enacting a contradiction — to deceive, control, or manipulate others (2 Corinthians 4:1-6).”[i] Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are not slaves to anyone, except the Lord. These “super-apostles” were boasting to the Corinthians about being more holy than them and were making the Corinthians feel like they were weak or were missing something. Paul says, “Yes, I have seen the Lord in a vision, but I do not boast that I have special authority or power, instead I boast about my weaknesses” (2 Corinthians 12:2-5).
Acknowledging your weaknesses is never a pleasant experience, because you have to admit you are broken and you cannot do something or you need help doing something. Sometimes people’s brokenness is caused by a physical limitation. Maybe you cannot walk and need a wheelchair to get around. Maybe you have weakness in your hands and need help opening jars. Other times, people’s brokenness is caused by psychosocial condition. Maybe you are a veteran and fireworks remind you of gunshots from the war zone caused by post-traumatic stress disorder. Maybe you were a victim of domestic violence, and anyone who behaves a certain way reminds you of that experience and can trigger anxiety or panic attacks, caused by post-traumatic stress disorder, in you. Maybe you are young or have little life experience and cannot relate to a friend who lost her father. It is difficult to admit you do not understand or are not able to do something.
Paul acknowledges his own weaknesses. Since becoming a Christian, Paul has been beaten, jailed, and torment. Malcolm writes, “In chapter four, Paul draws on imagery from psalms of lament to describe his apostolic life: being afflicted but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).”[ii] Here Paul explains that he does not write about his hardships to get sympathy but to illustrate how his weakness is the reason why he needs the Lord—the Lord is his strength.
In our society, weakness and limitations are viewed as negative. One is viewed as not being able to live a perceived normal life due to a physical limitation or not being able to handle certain situations due to a psychosocial condition. The man who runs for cover when he hears loud noises, like fireworks, is viewed as crazy, instead of being viewed as a veteran who protected our country under unimaginable situations. The woman who has experienced domestic violence is seen as not being able to handle life when she leaves her abusive spouse, instead of being strong enough to stand up to an abuser. The young man in an electric wheelchair is seen as weak and uneducated due to his speech impairments and his spastic movements, instead of being a brilliant businessman. We quickly judge people based on their weaknesses without knowing their back story.
Paul challenges us to see our weaknesses as strengths in Jesus Christ and the places where his power is made known (2 Corinthians 12:10). We can never brag about the miraculous ways God uses our weaknesses; those realities are clearly from God’s power alone.
And so, Jesus gives us inner strength when we are weak and persecuted by others. The veteran is always alert to protect others. The brilliant businessman in an electric wheelchair has a nonprofit that gives jobs to people with all abilities. The woman helps others get out of abusive relationships and start new lives, because someone did it for her. Jesus takes our weaknesses and turns them into inner strengths.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for giving the apostle Paul strength during his hardships. Help us to recognize our weaknesses as strength. Be with us during difficult times. Thank you for changing our weaknesses into inner strengths. Amen.
[i] Lois Malcolm, “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:2-10,” Working Preacher, 3 July 2015, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2483.