SUNDAY’S READINGS | June 19, 2022
These words may strike us as resolutely untrue if we think of St. Paul as the sole actor: “When I am weak, then I am strong.” After all, we hear the pronoun I twice, as if to underscore the person, St. Paul. If you put yourself in the sentence and speak truthfully, you would likely say, “When I am weak, I am weak. When I am weak, I am exhausted, spent, languishing, and depressed.” But there is an invisible presence amid Paul’s weakness, a strength not strictly his own.
He writes, “To keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). Paul is strong in the grace and power of God even amid his own weakness. The power source is God!
Once successful in his challenge to the prophets of Baal and strong in his attack against them at the brook of Kishon, the prophet Elijah stood among slain bodies and coursing blood as if an epic hero. His condition, however, changed immediately as Jezebel promised, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow” (1 Kgs. 19:2). As we would expect, “He got up and fled for his life” (1 Kgs. 19:3). Frightened and depressed, Elijah thought only of death. “He himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors’” (1 Kgs. 19:4). Despairing and distraught, the prophet was visited by an angel, given bread to eat and water to drink, epiphanies to contemplate, and the sheer power of enfolding silence. Once strong, he became weak. In weakness, he met the power of almighty God.
We may almost repeat this story from the Psalter, though in this case, it may help first to hear a note of confidence. The psalmist says three times, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” (Ps. 42:5a; 43:5). The power of God is present: “Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (Ps. 42:5b). Feeling the power of God, the psalmist confesses his own weakness: thirst, tears, a heavy soul, broken bones, my enemies, the ungodly, the deceitful and wicked, the oppressor. In weakness, a deep longing ignites. “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1-2).
In the gospel story, Jesus arrives in the country of the Gerasenes, and he meets a naked man who lives among the tombs. The man “was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds” (Luke 8:29). Humanity consigns this man to a place of death. Jesus does not. Jesus casts out the demons and restores the man to his right mind. Moreover, Jesus makes this man a witness and a disciple: “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” (Luke 8:39).
We find the sufficiency of God in the wilderness of our need.
Look It Up: Ps. 42:1; John 19:28
Think About It: Our thirst, though satisfied, is never fully satisfied.