July 4, 2021; 2 Corinthians 12: 1-6; 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Saint Paul is one of the most important saints of our faith tradition. Together with Peter, he is an apostolic founder of Christianity. Paul was forceful, intelligent, and energetic. He founded churches through Asia Minor and Europe. His preaching was strong, and his faith was strong. But in today’s second reading Paul says a surprising thing. He says that he is weak. It seems that Paul had a particular problem. We do not know what this problem was, but Paul called it “a thorn in his flesh.” This problem frustrated him, tripped him up, and made his ministry less effective. Three times he asks Jesus to remove this problem from him. Jesus refuses and says “My grace is sufficient to you and power is made perfect in weakness”. Power is made perfect in weakness.
Paul understood what Jesus was saying and so he tells the Corinthians that now he is going to boast in his weakness, so that the power of Christ might dwell with him. What Paul recognizes is that our weaknesses remind us how much we need Jesus. Our strengths lead us to ourselves. Our weakness leads us to Christ, so that he can save us. Paul boasts in his weakness because every time he remembers he is weak, he remembers where true power lies.
Now I think these words of Paul’s are useful for us this weekend as we celebrate our National Independence Day. The Fourth of July is an appropriate time for us to reflect on the strength and success of our nation. I think most of us here are proud to be Americans. I know that I am. This country provides us with a good way of life. We are free to worship, free to work, free to care for our family and friends as we are able. Yet with all these strengths, America has weaknesses too. There are still too many American children who go to bed hungry. The political division in our country makes it difficult to govern and difficult to live together in harmony. Despite years of progress, Black Americans still do not have equal access to education, housing, and safety in their neighborhoods.
These are real weaknesses and it is not unpatriotic to admit them. In fact, when we do, we recognize where we need to work to make our country better. And spiritually, when we admit them, we recognize our need for Christ. So on this holiday weekend, let us thank God for all that is good and strong in America, but also with Paul let us boast in our weaknesses, so we can welcome the power of Christ to ourselves and to our country.