GRACE UNLEASHED – Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
03 Jul 2024

Ez 2:2-5
Ps 123:1-2, 2, 3-4
2 Cor 12:7-10
Mk 6:1-6


“My grace is sufficient for you,

for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9)


Have you ever done something you never thought you could do, but

could because someone else has believed in you and urged you forward?

On the contrary, have you found yourself hampered by others’ preconceived

notions and lack of confidence in you? In a certain sense, these are the

experiences of Paul in the second reading and of Jesus in today’s gospel.


Paul has had extraordinary revelations and has accomplished incredible

things in his apostolic ministry. Yet he has a sense of true humility concerning

these unusual gifts. They are not due to any power or qualifications of

his own. Rather, he knows that they are pure grace, sheer gift from God and

undeserved. Paul has done things in his ministry that he never imagined

doing because God’s gifts have been recognized and called forth in him.

Paradoxically, these uncommon gifts do not endow Paul with any privilege

or cause him to become puffed up. Instead, the exercise of his gifts for

mission has brought him great suffering: insults, hardships, persecutions,

and calamities.


He writes of “a thorn in the flesh” given to him. Biblical scholars have

long puzzled over the nature of this “thorn.” An ancient interpretation

understands it as “the thorn of the flesh,” that is, physical desires, or concupiscence,

that plague Paul. Others have thought it to be a physical malady

or a kind of suffering that is related to his ministry. The latter is a real likelihood,

when we look at the context of this passage.


It is part of the “fool’s speech” that begins in 11:1 and goes through

12:10. In it Paul is refuting the charges of his opponents who accuse him of

being weak (10:1-2), having no credentials (3:1-3), and being unimpressive

in words, deeds, and physical presence (10:1-12). Paul counters with a surprising twist:

instead of defending himself by taking a position of strength,

he turns the tables and argues that his weaknesses are the very mark of his

authenticity as an apostle. His own powerlessness makes evident that it is

God’s grace and power that work through him.


That the “superapostles” (11:5; 12:11) who oppose Paul are the “thorn”

in his flesh sent by Satan is likely when we see that in 11:12-15 he compares

them to Satan, “who disguises himself as an angel of light.” See also Numbers

33:55 and Ezekiel 28:24, where enemies are called “thorns.” Unlike

these false apostles, Paul boasts of weakness that allows God’s power to

work through him. Further, he is content to endure hardship when it is for

the sake of the mission.


Paul, with the grace of God, was enabled to do far more than he ever

thought possible by his own abilities. Jesus, by contrast, was prevented from

doing any mighty deeds in his hometown because of the limited expectations

of his own people. Thinking they knew Jesus inside and out, they

hindered his ability to let God’s power work through him for their benefit.

Sometimes this is referred to as the “tall poppy syndrome.” Group dynamics

often prevent anyone from rising above the rest. “Who do they think they

are?” others will say about an emergent local leader. If an “expert” had

come from outside the community and taught the same things as their native

son, they would have been far more disposed to accept such teaching.


In both readings there is a recognition that the perceptions of others

can strongly influence the exercise of prophetic and apostolic gifts within

a faith community. Opposition and close-mindedness can squelch the flow

of the Spirit, while expressed belief in the untapped abilities of another can

cause him or her to flourish in extraordinary ways with the power of God.


Excerpt from Barbara E. Reid, OP. Abiding Word. Sunday Reflections for Year B. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2011, pp. 84-85.