I Boast About My Weaknesses – The Feast of Sts. Peter and PaulFr. Barnabas Powell
Henry David Thoreau said, “If I seem to boast more than is becoming, my excuse is that I brag for humanity rather than for myself.” I like that. But what if my mind was so reoriented that I can even boast about my weaknesses? This is the invitation of the wisdom of the Faith.
The truth is most of us who were raised with an expectation of decorum, dignity, and virtue were raised to avoid boasting as it was unbecoming of a humble man. And, usually, that is true. Boastful people tend to be those folks who are all talk and no action and they inflate their accomplishments to boost their egos. Certainly not the character of a humble man who realizes that his very life is a gift and the purpose of life is to be grateful.
And yet, there is a boasting that actually leads to humility and gratitude. And the very counter-intuitive nature of this boasting reveals something powerful about God and the salvation He has provided to us!
Let’s look at our lesson today in 2 Corinthians 11:21-33; 12:1-9. Here’s the portion we will focus on today:
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed for ever, knows that I do not lie. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped his hands.
I must boast; there is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I wish to boast, I shall not be a fool, for I shall be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
St. Paul is attempting to give these immature Corinthians the spiritual tools to grow up in their faith so that they will become “like Jesus Christ.” And the path to this maturity runs through the humility of boasting about your own weakness!
Paul uses an event in his own spiritual life that illustrates the power of finally realizing that your confession of your weaknesses invites the grace of God to heal you and lift you up. He tells the Corinthians about “a man” who had an incredible vision of eternity. Of course, this “man” is Paul himself but he’s illustrating the way to be humble in your boasting! He speaks of himself in the third person to draw attention to the revelation of truth rather than the fact that it was he who had the vision. Paul’s boasting is about the gift of God and the grace of God Who uses a former persecutor of the Church and a man who used to be proud of his place in the nation of Israel as a leader and a judge. In another place, Paul calls all his accomplishments before he came to Christ as “dung.” While this may sound like Paul has an inferiority complex, it is not this at all.
Our modern culture has exalted “self-image” to the point that it has drowned out wisdom and honesty. We are gripped by the notion that we have to hide our weaknesses and emphasize our strengths. But what is really happening is that we are poisoning our strengths with delusional arrogance and that is a weakness! It is an escape from honest and sober truth-telling and knowing myself with the ability to soberly and dispassionately see both my strengths and weaknesses without guilt or arrogance! That is true freedom and wisdom!
You see, it is only in boasting about how much God has provided that puts my weakness in perspective and allows God’s grace to protect me from pride and despondency! If I am bragging about how good God has been to me with all my weaknesses, I am free from thinking I did this all by myself AND I’m free from seeing my weaknesses as faults that I can never overcome!
As we come to the end of the Apostle’s Fast and celebrate the God-loving pillars of the Church – Sts. Peter and Paul, we are invited to see these precious men as men who both had strengths and weaknesses. And yet, in spite of both of these realities, God used these heroes of our faith to lay a foundation for the reorienting of the whole human race toward God and His Christ. Both men were talented and stumbled. One walked with Christ during His earthly ministry and then when it came to his own safety, he denied even knowing the Lord. The other was a respected leader and a seriously faithful Pharisee in the nation of Israel, a scholar of the Torah, and a persecutor of the Christians. He even gave legal cover for the mob that killed the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen. Both men were confronted by the Risen Christ and they were transformed into the princes of the Apostles and changed human history forever. Their weaknesses served to make these men both humble and powerful servants of Jesus Christ and His Church.
Today, what do you boast about? You will grow in your faith when you learn the power of looking directly at your weaknesses and offering them to God for His grace and strength to forgive you and heal you so that you know that all your life is a gift that is meant for you to gratefully live a Normal Orthodox life!
P.S. O Lord, receive unto the enjoyment of Your good things and Your rest, the steadfast preachers of Godly words, the pinnacle of Your Disciples. Receive their pain and death above every sacrifice, for You alone know the hearts of men.