Paul’s experience of Paradise must have really been something. We could be jealous of him, but we could also recognize that what he saw was probably essential in terms of the motivation he needed to continue through the trials he faced. In some ways, Paul’s life makes more sense when we consider how much extraordinary grace and supernatural help he received. By boasting of his weakness, he himself bears witness to the fact that this is all God’s doing and the only thing he can reliably contribute is his willingness, his endurance, and his suffering. He can boast because he has discovered that the action of the Holy Spirit is what has made him who he is. We can imitate St. Paul by learning how to lean in to our weakness with compunction. We would rather have some kind of reliable stability based on our own control than the support and help of the Holy Spirit. Yet, when we turn more frequently and more fervently to the help of the Spirit, we grow in the most important relationship we have in life.
Jesus also invites us to consider our priorities in today’s Gospel. When our priorities are wrong, we are anxious for nothing. When our priorities are right, our vain anxieties will be minimized and we will more readily abandon ourselves to God’s providence when it comes to important concerns. Indeed, St. Paul talks about being anxious on several occasions, but he is anxious about the things of God. If what we care about most are divine things, and we understand how powerless we are to affect them, we can better “cast our cares, on the one who truly cares.” If you have issues trusting God, look at the life of St. Paul – he probably has you beat in terms of reasons not to trust God. St. Paul turned his helplessness into a powerful prayer because his treasure was principally in heaven.
It is not so much the deeds themselves which are the cause of pride, as our telling them to others. Good deeds will not puff anybody up unless they are witnessed to and remarked upon by others.1
Paul mentions both things because either is possible. It may seem to someone that it is nothing much to be caught up into the third heaven, since that is where the moon is, but that is not right. What this means is that he was caught up beyond all the stars of the universe into the heaven which is third in the hierarchy of spiritual heavens.2
ISAAC OF NINEVEH:
All that is heard by the ears can be spoken. He did not hear audible sounds, nor did he see a vision composed of the corporeal images of sense perception, but it was by the intuitions of the understanding, being in rapture, while his will had no fellowship with the body.3
THEODORET OF CYR:
Paul wanted to make it clear that his affliction was not a natural property of the body but something which was intended by God for a higher purpose.4
- Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 26.1. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 302). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON PAUL’S EPISTLES. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 302). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ASCETICAL HOMILIES 4. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 303). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 350. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 307). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.