My grandson loves superheros. Superman (alias Clarke Kent) from Planet Krypton uses superhuman abilities for the good of mankind. In our reading today Paul was being compared adversely to super apostles in Corinth. Other super apostles had more power, more spiritual experiences. Paul was not boasting of his achievements in performing miracles and divine encounters.
Paul, in response to these criticisms, says he was shown the third heaven, probably referring to his Damascus Road experience which transformed him from persecutor of Christians to apostle. Paul does not give his interpretation of this experience but acknowledges that only God knows. He attempts to turn the boasting of the super apostles upside down by boasting of his weakness and vulnerability instead of his power and strength.
Instead of boasting about performing miracles Paul boosts of his non-miracle, his unanswered prayer to remove the thorn in his flesh. Instead of seeing this as a failure he sees it as a success to show the power of Christ working in him. It is a constant reminder that when he is weak he is strong as he leans on Christ’s strength, not his own. Paul’s thorn may have been a physical, psychological or emotional dis-ease. Our bodies are flesh and blood but also temples for the Holy Spirit who gives us the grace, strength and courage to accept and use our thorns to spread God’s kingdom. Our earthly bodies will pass away but our spirits are joined to God and are eternal. We are told that in heaven there will be no more sorrow or pain and we will be given new bodies.
To redeem the world God chose the way of the cross - the thorny path. Jesus accepted that his Father’s way for him was one of opposition, obstacles, being misunderstood, rejected, not to be a superhero but a man of sorrows aquatinted with grief! In the Gospel today he was rejected by the folk of his hometown and members of his family. He didn’t fit their expectations of a temple teacher, he wasn’t a rabbi but a carpenter and illegitimate.
Our families might reject us but our church family is the body of Christ, accepting that we are all weak and in that is our strength. Paul was content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities knowing whenever we are weak, then we are strong in Christ.
Joni Eareckson Tada uses her thorns to further the kingdom of God. She had a diving accident aged 17 that left her quadriplegic. She received numerous thorns in her flesh and wanted to die. However God had other plans and his power was made perfect in her weakness as she has spent her life since, from her wheelchair, in world wide ministry and as advocate for the disabled.
God’s Upside down kingdom requires us to surrender our wills and thorns to God, to let go and to let God. Knowing his grace is sufficient for us, for power is made perfect in weakness.