There is something mysterious about Sunday’s scripture reading in the sanctuary worship services. Pick up almost any commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and it will attempt to solve the mystery or report on other scholars’ attempts. That mystery generally becomes the focus for most of us when we study this passage. It is the mystery of the thorn that stuck in Paul’s body. He says that it tormented him, but what was it? He never says. We know that he is speaking metaphorically and, whatever it is, it is agonizing. The word Paul chooses to use is usually translated “thorn,” but the word points to something worse than a minor irritation. Some scholars suggest a better translation would be “stake” — this certainly fits the apparent agony Paul experienced.
I suppose it is natural to focus on this mystery. Paul was tormented by something and we want to know what it was. No one knows, but everyone has his or her favorite theory. Was it spiritual temptations? Was it opposition and persecution? Was it carnal temptation? Some have suggested that it was Paul’s physical appearance because earlier in this same letter, Paul quotes his adversaries as saying “his bodily presence is weak.” Was it epilepsy? Was it chronic attacks of malarial fever accompanied by excruciating headaches? Some kind of eye trouble? We really don’t know, but everyone loves to guess. A century and half ago, Soren Kierkegaard observed that this passage, “…seems to have afforded an uncommonly favorable opportunity for everyone to become an interpreter of the Bible.”
My question is, why does the thorn get so much attention in the passage? Of course, there’s the mystery of it. But even beyond the mystery in this passage of scripture, I think the tendency to focus on the thorns is something we all deal with and most readily see, not only in 2 Corinthinans 12, but in life itself.
Let’s face it. Thorns are easy to see. We see them all around us — and all around the world. We want to know what kind of thorn it was that stuck in Paul’s flesh and caused him to cry out to God repeatedly, because it is very easy to identify with that thorn. When we gather together to talk, doesn’t the conversation often turn to the hurts, the pain, and the problems around us?
This Sunday, I hope you’ll join us as we look more deeply into this portion of Paul’s second letter to the Christians at Corinth because there is so much more to it than the thorn. In fact, there is even something that thrives among the thorns — one of the few things that will grow very well, even in the in thorniest of places. Let’s explore this together and see if we can find this in Paul — and more importantly, in our own lives and in the world around us.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!
Grace and Peace,