‘’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
To keep St Paul from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given to him in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass him, to keep him from being too elated. Three times he besought the Lord about this, that it should leave him; but He said to St Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So St Paul said: I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
These words of Saint Paul stand as a great challenge to all of us claiming to be disciples of the Lord. They are words spoken to the Apostle, by Christ Himself. The paradox of weakness perfecting power is something that is not easily implemented on a day to day basis.
What is true power? Worldly wisdom says that power is rooted in “natural” resources (academic, socio-economic, intellectual, political, etc.) and requires access to them. Since these resources are limited, true power is always limited to the few. But God’s wisdom says that true power comes from him and has no correlation with access to natural resources. True power is accessible to anyone who depends on God. Jesus is the personification of this principle. The early Christian movement had terrific expansion power—not because they had access to political or academic or socio-economic power—but because they depended on God (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
Worldly wisdom says power requires self-sufficiency. Western culture has always glorified self-sufficiency (“God helps those who help themselves;” self-righteous, self-sufficient) and it is no surprise that it is currently drawn toward self-sufficient spiritualities (self-empowerment). But God’s wisdom says that power requires realizing and acknowledging your weakness. The Old Testament hall of fame is filled with people who “through weakness were made strong.” Gideon’s secret weapon in defeating the Midianites was his total lack of confidence. God’s wisdom also says that reliance on (not possession of) natural resources forfeits power. Uzziah was truly powerful “until he became (militarily) strong.”
Worldly wisdom says that God should alleviate our weaknesses so we can become more powerful (most prayer requests, health and wealth). But God’s wisdom says that God allows all kinds of weaknesses so we can become more powerful. St Paul realized that his chronic physical ailment, his mistreatment by others, and the interruptions and difficulties in his ministry were the keys (not obstacles) to true power (2 Cor. 12:9,10).
As we celebrate the sacrament of the Kingdom of God, the Eucharistic banquet, we are reminded that the fundamental teaching of power perfected in weakness is not an option for any of us. What was given to Saint Paul is now being given to us. There is no way for us to skirt or ignore or even try to mitigate this teaching without compromising the Gospel.
However, the question inevitably arises, why must this hard and even unreasonable teaching of our Lord be embraced? Why must the Christian be urged to accept and therefore to have faith in a teaching that is not only foolish from a logical perspective, but can easily be construed as unproductive in this time of hardships?
To ignore or reject the paradox of power perfected in weakness is to ignore and reject the cross of Christ. God the Father sent Jesus into the ultimate weakness of the Cross, where this power was unleashed. Here let us not forget what Saint Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians: “For the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . .For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than man” (1: 18,25). What is unreasonable, what is illogical, what is shameful (c£ Hebrews 12:1-3) we accept as the very power and glory of God. The crucified Christ pours life upon the earth. His empty tomb reveals death being slain by death.
Like Saint Paul-we are to make Christ’s words our own. The Gospel compels us to see with the eyes of faith that we cannot depend on worldly power and success. For worldly power – even when benevolent gives birth to destruction, while worldly success is built on the backs of the oppressed.
The Gospel summed up in the life giving word of the cross urges us not to rely on the power and glory of the world, but on “God who raises the dead…” (2 Corinthians 1:9). Like the Apostle Paul we, who are Christ’s disciples, are to follow the path he has opened for us. In the eyes of the world, this path is to be rejected for it makes no sense, to voluntarily place oneself in a weakened or vulnerable position.
Yet, for us who are being saved, the path of Christ and therefore the path of the cross shows us that even in the midst of violence and destruction, the kingdom of God is being inaugurated. We saw this in today’s gospel when our Lord in His compassion said to the widow of Nain, ‘Do not weep!”, and then He said to her dead son, ”Young man, I say to you, arise” (Lk 7:14). Out of this most miserable state, the dead son immediately sat up and spoke, and those who saw this said that ”God has visited His people” (Lk 7:16); the kingdom, our life has come!
We who celebrate this kingdom – we who belong to this kingdom – must show the world through word and deed that Christ, who gave himself up for the life of the world is and shall forever be victorious. “For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11).Once you come to Christ and experience the power of salvation, He wants you to experience His power for service. He wants to pour His power into your life so that your transformed character draws others to Him and inspires Christians to live for Him, thus establishing the Kingdom.
Therefore, when Christ says: ”My grace is sufficient for you…” it means that it is Christ’s power that accomplishes God’s will—not human/natural power, as Christ is the only sinless one. It is dependence on Christ (faith) that lays hold of His power—not reliance on our own power or our ability to get more “natural” resources. The problem is that as fallen people, we have a deeply ingrained tendency to rely on ourselves rather than on God.
This is why it is realization of our utter weakness that cultivates dependence on Christ. Only when we become convinced that “I cannot” do, we become open/able to affirm “I need you—you can/must do this.”
There are many ways that we access Christ’s power: by committing ourselves to live for Christ and serving others, and by spiritually feeding ourselves regularly through his Word and prayer and fellowship with other Christians through the liturgical life. But there is another way that is equally mandatory if we want our lives to be filled with the power of Christ—the way of difficulties. So ingrained is our self-sufficiency (even as Christians) that only difficulties will break our self-confidence and deepen our dependence on Christ.
Therefore, it is the difficulties in our lives that convince us of our spiritual weakness—not the blessings. God usually does not create these difficulties, but He works through them in His love and wisdom toward this good end. This is why those who experience Christ’s life-changing power are always joyful and thankful, even in their difficulties.
In our weakness we deepen our dependence on Him; and this is the response and source that leads to our greater spiritual power and gratitude for God’s wisdom!