19th June. Friday in Week 11

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 11:18, 21-30

Paul boasts about his hardships in carrying out his ministry

My brethren, since many others boast according to human standards, I will also boast. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

But whatever anyone dares to boast of–I am speaking as a fool–I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman–I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the desert, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not eak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Gospel: Matthew 6:19-23

Do not lay up earthly treasure where moths and rust corrode.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!


Something to really boast about

Today’s words from the Sermon on the Mount touch on a problem we instinctively feel about Paul’s boasting. Jesus puts it bluntly: “Do not lay up for yourselves an earthly treasure. Moths and rust corrode… Instead, store up heavenly treasure…. If your vision is bad, you will be in darkness. And if your light is darkness, how deep the darkness will be.”

Poor Paul gets caught up in a confusing whirlwind of boasting. “Since many are bragging, I too will boast,” he says, with embarassment, when trying to offset whatever criticisms some were levelling at him in Coringh. Oddly enough, his boasting mostly is about the failures, disappointments and rejections he has suffered. When drawn into the boasting game, he can brag only of his sufferings while pursuing his apostolic work. Yet he leads the people to put their confidence in the power of the Spirit. Paul’s eloquent bragging is not really an attempt to lay up earthly treasures, for he hopes to direct people towards the true source of any real strength that we have. His way of handling the false claims of others turns out to be such a delicate balance that it is difficult to imitate. But it enables us to reconstruct Paul’s personal biography and to have a rare insight into the personality of this genial saint.

Other words of Jesus provide more practical advice. He advises us to have a “good eye,” filled with light and so able to see goodness and light in the actions and hearts of others. Rather than be annoyed by their faults and idiosyncrasies, our “good eye” can recognize their good side. We should commend them for their virtues, not condemn them for their vices, and not imitate them in bragging or boasting. But if we must brag, let it be about the grace of God that helps us in whatever are our weaknesses, failures or moments of rejection.


Paul’s treasure

In today’s first reading Paul boasts of experiences that most people would consider great misfortunes and only to be mentioned in hushed tones. He speaks of beatings, imprisonments, floggings, stoning, shipwreck and much more. Yet, he is prepared to boast of all these negative experiences because he endured them in the service of the gospel. It was because of his devotion to Christ and his gospel that all this suffering and misfortune came his way. They demonstrate where his true treasure lies, in the language of the gospel. His true treasure is the person of Christ, as he says in his letter to the Philippians, “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” When Jesus calls on us to store up for ourselves true treasures in heaven, he is calling on us to take him as our true Jesus. In the language of one of the parables of Matthew’s gospel, he is the pearl of great price. The Eucharist gives us an opportunity to treasure the surpassing value of this priceless pearl. [Martin Hogan]

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