Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day. Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. Ezekiel 2:3-4
Brothers and sisters: That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Do you have a person in your life that rubs you the wrong way? Maybe it’s the way they speak, the way they act, the way they eat. Whatever it is, they drive you nuts. And yet, you have no choice but to put up with them. They are in your life and for whatever reason, you have to interact with them on a regular basis. I’m convinced everyone has their ‘thorn in the flesh,’ their ‘person.’ Sometimes we are able to care so deeply for them and yet, at the same time, be so deeply annoyed at them in the same moment. God had the same type of relationship with the Israelites. They rebelled against him every chance they had and that probably annoyed the heck out of him. He called them ‘hard of face’ and ‘obstinate of heart.’ And yet, he loved them. And so he sent Ezekiel to them, so that they could drive him crazy, too.
Sometimes I think our ‘thorns in the flesh’ drive us up the wall because we know we can’t get away from them. We’re stuck with them forever. If we thought it was just for one day, we’d be able to laugh off some of their intricacies or see the good inside their frustrating nature. But knowing they will be around us for days, weeks, months, and years to come can make us lose it at times. God had formed an everlasting covenant with the Israelites. He was tied to them. They were going to be his light to the nations. And yet they weren’t acting like it. In the same way, Paul was tied to his ‘thorn in the flesh.’ He begged God to take it away multiple times but he was just plain stuck with it.
Scholars and theologians debate what Paul was referring to when he mentioned his ‘thorn in the flesh.’ Was it guilt over his former life of persecuting Christians? Was it a sexual temptation? A disability? Or maybe it was a person… a really annoying person he couldn’t get away from in his ministry. Whatever it was, he heard the voice of God, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
When we find ourselves annoyed at others, do we remember that we are weak and imperfect, too? God rejoices when we come to Him as weak, humble people, not pompous, judgmental people. He has specifically called us to those around us who may be hard of face and obstinate of heart. He has a heart for them and therefore, we must have a heart for them, too, even when it is not so easy. The only way to minister to and love those who are most difficult to love is to remember that we, too, are weak, obstinate of heart, sinful, and also, loved in the eyes of God. When we remember that we, too, are weak, then God can make us strong. When we accept these hardships, weaknesses, and yes, frustrating people for the sake of God, he will use us to be a beacon of light and love to those around us and to the whole world.