The word of the day is “sufficient.” In our reading of 2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9, St. Paul discloses his inner life’s secrets. The Apostle has been provoked. His opponents have boasted that their qualifications for leadership are greater than Paul’s. Though he calls it “boasting,” the Apostle answers their bragging with a summary of the dangers, hardships, and sufferings that he has endured. He then speaks of “visions and revelations” of his mystical experience when he was taken up to the third heaven and into Paradise (vs. 2:4).
Boasting Qualified by Humility
But as spectacular as Paul’s report of his spiritual experience is, it comes with a qualification. He frames his narrative of his spiritual feats with two expressions of humility. Before he tells of his vision, he writes, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things which concern my infirmity” (vs. 11:30). The Greek word is derived from the idea of feebleness or frailty. To illustrate his humility, the Apostle recounts that he was let down the city wall in a basket to escape arrest in Damascus—hardly a dignified way of leaving a city (vs. 33).
Possessing in God What One Lacks in Oneself
At the end of his recollection of his mystical experience, Paul returns to the theme of his imperfection. He writes that God had inflicted him with a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from being too elated (v. 7). Whatever the affliction was, three times, Paul implored the Lord to remove it. But God’s answer was “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (vs. 9). The word for “weakness,” that is, “frailty,” is the same word that Paul used earlier at the beginning of his excursion into boasting. Paul repeats that he will boast of his frailties (vs. 9).
For Paul, “God’s grace is sufficient.” It is enough. It is satisfactory. It is all he needs. Thus, Paul contrasts his feebleness with God’s power, His deficiency with God’s all-sufficient grace. Consequently, he yields his weakness to God’s strength. And in surrendering his boasting to God’s greatness, the Apostle possesses in God what he lacks in himself.
Suppose we believe that God provides enough for our physical needs. Is His Grace sufficient for our spiritual lives? Consider what God the Holy Trinity gives us: the Word of God and the Holy Tradition, the Holy Mysteries (sacraments), the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, the lives of the saints, the witness of the apostles, the teachings of the Councils and church fathers, the stories of the desert fathers, the “Jesus Prayer,” the direction of our hierarchs, the worship and fellowship of the Church.
What more “means of grace” do we need? What is it that draws us away from these foundations of faith into the spiritual dead ends? Is it perhaps our desire for extraordinary spiritual gifts? Or esoteric knowledge? Or ecstatic spiritual experiences? Or is it curiosity, a desire to know something about everything?
Thanking God for all our spiritual as well as physical blessings, let us pray with Paul: “Your grace, O God, is sufficient for me.”