Our course reading of II Corinthians ends on Sunday (12:2-10) in a section of the Epistle where St Paul defends his ministry with the revelation that he has had an ecstatic experience of God and of things heavenly.

He does not wish to boast about his experience, and so he refers to himself in the third person: “I know a person in Christ” (12:2) and “[o]n behalf of such a one I will boast” (12:5). In other words, St Paul boasts not about himself but the experience he has had.

The experience takes him “up to the third heaven” (12:2), to “Paradise” where he “heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat” (12:4). Ancient cosmologies told of a multilayered universe. Seven was a popular number for the heavens, but so was three. In the “Testament of Levi,” part of Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, God lives in the third heaven. Without specifying any particular structure of the universe, Paul claims a spiritual journey to God’s dwelling place where secrets (“the exceptional character of the revelations” [12:7]) were revealed to him.

And, to keep him humble (“to keep me from being too elated” [12:7]), “a thorn was given me in the flesh” (12:7). The exact nature of the “thorn” is not known. It may be a sickness, or physical disability, or temptation, or hindrance associated with his apostolic ministry. It even may be an opponent who was persistent or obnoxious.

We learn that Paul appealed to the Lord to be relieved of the “thorn,” and, instead of removing it, the Lord reveals to Paul that his “grace is sufficient for you,” (!2:9). Paul possesses his soul in patience to endure “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (12:10), because “whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10).

Just as Christ is King even when nailed to the Cross, St Paul is strong even when he faces adversity. He is strongest when he appears to be weakest.

The next course reading is of the Epistle to the Ephesians.

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