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“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

While St. Paul seldom boasts in his letters, he makes up for it here.  But the Corinthians have it coming.  For even though he evangelized them, they turned their back on him as soon as the Judaizers followed him, preaching that the Corinthians had to follow the Jewish Law in order to be truly Christian.  Thus, they felt that they were superior to St. Paul and his apostolic teaching.  He shows in this Epistle that, if they had any reason to have confidence in the flesh, then he had more.  He shows that he places his trust in Christ, rather than in the Law, more confidence in his weaknesses, than his supposed strengths.  Like a fool, he boasts in his weakness and the sufferings he had endured for Christ.  He powerfully shows his anger at, and disappointment in, the Corinthians.

This boasting in Christ instead of in his own merits records for posterity the sufferings St. Paul endured as a minister of the Gospel and Apostle to the Gentiles.  Indeed, his account of suffering here far exceeds what is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.  When we compare our suffering for the Gospel to his, we fall shamefully short.  We are pitiful compared to this hero of the faith who claimed his efforts were pitiful compared to Christ.  That should give us a proper perspective to consider our work on behalf of the Gospel of Christ.  What he freely gave again and again, we carefully guard and hold back again and again.

Let’s look at the Epistle verse by verse.

Verse 20:  “Ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.”  The Corinthians have been duped and treated poorly, and yet they think themselves superior to St. Paul!  They have mindlessly obeyed, spent lavishly on, been taken advantage of by, and submitted themselves to false teachers, like fools following whatever goofy fad ensnares the Hollywood elite.  If they can hearken to such fakers, then they can listen to St. Paul.

Verse 21:  “I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also.”  St. Paul says here, “as though we had been weak” although it was the Corinthians themselves who had been foolishly led.  He then leads into his major premise:  If anyone actually has reason to boast, you can be assured that he has more.

Verse 22:  “Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.”  Here begins the boasting, although he had reiterated that this whole line of commentary is foolish.  He is every bit as Jewish as the Judaizer heretics are.  They have no superiority here.

Verse 23:  “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.”  If he is every bit as Jewish as they are, then note too that St. Paul has suffered greatly for the Gospel of our Lord in work, scourgings, prison time, and being surrounded by death.  They have nothing on him one way, and they have nothing on him the other.

Verse 24:  “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.”  Deuteronomy xxv.1-3 prescribes the maximum number of lashes allowable under the Law of Moses as forty.  In order to not inadvertently exceed this number, the number given was thirty-nine, so if they lost count, they did not violate the Law.  So St. Paul has received the maximum allowable scourging on five separate occasions.  This is not recorded elsewhere in Scripture.  We have here proof that St. Paul did many heroic things which were not recorded elsewhere in the New Testament.  We see here that the Jews persistently and with great determination attempted to shut St. Paul up.

Verse 25:  “Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;”  This verse is a traditional favorite of youth groups.  “Beaten with rods” was a Roman punishment, showing Roman hostility in addition to the previously noted Jewish hostility.  The whole world seemed to work against the Apostle to the Gentiles, seeking to silence the proclamation of the Good News.  He was stoned, the same punishment for which he held the coats of those who martyred St. Stephen.  He was shipwrecked three times before his voyage to Rome recounted in the Acts.  He spent “a night and a day” marooned in the open ocean, adrift at sea.  This is a tale of high adventure greater than one by Robert Louis Stevenson!

Verse 26:  “In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;”  He moves here to a nearly hypnotic repetition of where he had been in trouble.  What a catalog!  Who among us except the most seasoned travelers have even been to such a variety of places, much less suffered for our great Incarnate God there?  As for me, I think I have only been mildly in peril once by my own countrymen.  So many of our fellow saints have followed the way of St. Paul, have followed the way of Christ!  So much suffering, and for such a good cause!

Verse 27:  “In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”  We see here that not only has he suffered grave dangers, but he has survived in brutal discomfort.  I got a little chilly the other week.  Despite my own disease, I suffer not from watchings, hunger, thirst, cold, and nakedness.  When I think that I have it rough, I can think of the saints of old – and of today elsewhere in the world – and remember that we are promised no comfort save that of Christ and the Holy Ghost.  The correct perspective of our actual situation helps us govern our emotions and expectations, keeping us faithful and drawing us closer in loving-kindness to the Son of God.

Verse 28:  “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”  And what follows the tribulations of torture, shipwreck, fasting, nakedness, and such?  The burden of “care of all the churches”.  Think of that the next time we welcome Archbishop Haverland to our fair parish.  Daily external hardships are only part of the apostle’s suffering.  The internal weight of the care of parishes, the burden of pastoral authority, the cure of souls is of such import that St. Paul mentions it in this privileged place in his list.

He remembers the churches he has founded.  He prays for them.  As we can see in his letters, also called epistles, St. Paul is constantly sending someone to visit a church for him, constantly pressing on to another mission site, disputing publicly in yet another city, being thrown into yet another jail for challenging the authority of the leaders of the synagogue.  St. Paul certainly cares for this church in Corinth, but he cares for many others as well.  This alone should chasten the Corinthians that they have been singled out for such a rant.  But St. Paul cares about the churches which he has not even visited, putting the Corinthians even more to their shame.

Verse 29:  “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?”  Many Christians throughout his mission field are weak and many suffer indignations every day.  And St. Paul is right there with them in body and in spirit.  He is weak when they are weak.  And he burns when they are offended.  He is not ashamed to say that he is weak; remember, he started today’s Epistle with saying as much.  And indeed, this leads to the next verse.

Verse 30:  “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”  St. Paul “will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”  This is madness in the eyes of the world.  Glory in my infirmities?  Infirmities are to be dismissed, saying “that’s nothing”, or they are to be denied, like saying that instead of being disabled I am “otherly abled”, or infirmities are to be pitied and raged against with anger and venom.

But our apostle is doing something different than our broken and deranged natural inclinations would have us do.  He is glorying in his weakness.  He is completely dependent upon his good God.  The entire world is against him, Jews and Romans both.  Yet he perseveres.  This is all due to Christ and to Him alone.  St. Paul knows that all the merit in the world is as nothing compared to the incomparable gift of grace in the Incarnation of Christ, His death upon the Cross, and His Resurrection with power and great glory.  When we acknowledge ourselves to be the weak creatures compared to the sovereign power of God, we open ourselves up to be the grateful beneficiaries of the grace, merits, and goodness of Christ.

You cannot receive anything in a closed fist.  Who of you would cross your arms across your chest and hopes that somebody would let you have your turn to hold the baby?  Who of you would duck your head away when your honey leans close for a kiss?  Who of you would come to Holy Communion and close your hands and your mouth and expect to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Christ?  You can’t normally receive what you are not open for.  And as St. Paul learned on his way to Damascus, the only way to receive grace when you are not open to it is to be struck blind and knocked to the ground.

As we approach this holy season of Lent, I challenge each one of you to find two things to change your life so that you are more open to receive grace.  I ask you to drop some impediment to God’s grace in your life.  Normally, this is in the form of a Lenten fast.  Have you been hitting the bottle too hard lately?  Drop the booze.  Too much sugar lately?  Cut out the sweets.  Suspect that television, delicacies, or loose talk is interfering with your relationship with God?  Change it up.

I furthermore ask you to add some particular aid to receiving God’s grace this Lent.  Walk the Stations of the Cross every Friday with us.  Say Mattins with us before Sunday School.  Attend a weekday Mass each week.  Make a Lenten Confession.  Dig into your St. Augustine’s Prayer Book and say a devotion to the Sacred Heart each day.

Add one discipline and subtract one distraction and you will see an improvement in your spiritual life this Lent.  I dare you.  Will you dare try?

 

“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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