“When I’m weak, I’m strong”
St. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12, bequeaths to us an important gift – a theology and spirituality of weakness. The text is found in verses 7-10.
First, Paul acknowledges his weakness. He says that he “was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me and stop me from getting too proud.” This acknowledgment of weakness involves suffering, especially when others make it known with candour!
What is Paul’s weakness? Is it a physical difficulty or a psychological difficulty or both? Perhaps it is the “triple concupiscence” that we all experience as a consequence of original sin – “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16)? Maybe it is the opposition he seems to continually face in his mission? We don’t know and it’s best that we don’t know. We can better relate to his struggle this way.
Second, Paul turns his weakness into a prayer and God answers in miraculous fashion by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is at its best in weakness.” How often have we prayed that God might relieve us from us a weakness that seems to hinder us from participating more fully and fruitfully in our God-given mission? But, no, God is not going to take it away. Rather, his grace is sufficient, “his power is at its best in weakness.” It’s best this way for some mysterious reason. Perhaps this way it is God who is made manifest and not ourselves?
Third, Paul finds peace in his weakness and God’s acceptance of it. Remarkable, don’t you think? Counter intuitive, paradoxical and ironic. But there it is for all of us to see. Paul finishes by proclaiming:
So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me, and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses, and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.
What a prayer this is! When we come up against our own inadequacies, weaknesses and fundamental flaws, we can simply pray:
Lord Jesus, when I am weak, I am strong!
Somehow our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, not our gifts and talents, open us up to receive the love and strength of the Father and it is this dynamic – our weakness, God’s strength – that best makes present the Kingdom on earth.
Finally, when we move to 2 Corinthians 13, Paul further cements his theology of weakness with this claim:
For Jesus was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God.
Christ crucified and risen – weakness and power – is the pattern for Paul’s life. Christ crucified and risen – weakness and power – is the pattern for a faithful and fruitful life.