(2nd Corinthians 11:31-33; 12:1-9))
The Apostle Paul, in today’s passage from his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, reveals a unique experience he had, something which has not happened to any other person. It is this: he ascended to the third heaven, over all material creation, and reached the spiritual realm in Paradise. He heard much in the heavenly world, things that cannot possibly be described to others!
This Apostle of Christ was in no hurry to announce this miraculous event to the world. He kept it secret for fourteen years! Perhaps he never would have revealed it at all, had it not been for his drive to lovingly support the faith of the Christians in Corinth. This is what happened: We know that the Apostle Paul in his Second Apostolic journey arrived in Corinth, to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Despite facing many obstacles, he founded a Christian Church there. Later on, various enemies of the Church were trying to persuade Christians that what the Apostle Paul taught them was wrong. They argued that because he was not one of the original Twelve Apostles who knew Christ, his teachings were merely his own opinions! This created great turmoil among the Christians of Corinth. The authority of Paul’s Apostolic office was shattered, their faith was shaken, and the Church divided as a result. This is why the Apostle Paul was forced to send a second letter to the Corinthians not long after his first one, to reassure the faithful about the truths he had declared to them. To help them understand that his sacred work is favored by God, he tells them the previously mentioned story of his ascension to Paradise. He speaks of this event with humility, as if it happened to somebody else, and he was just a witness. He is worried that if the Christians listening heard that he himself ascended to Paradise and returned, they would believe him to be some higher being. The Apostle has reason to worry about this. On his first tour, in the city of Lystra in Asia Minor, after the people witnessed a miracle, they considered Paul a god and the pagan priest of that city had prepared to sacrifice a bull on their altar! This is why the Apostle is careful, and trying to anticipate how the Corinthians will perceive him. He avoids boasting because of the greatness of the revelations, “lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me” (verse 6). In fact, with words revealing his compassion in being compelled to reveal his secret, he writes: “I have become a fool in boasting; you have compelled me” (12:11).
The Apostle Paul, with his word and example, shows true discipleship in Christ. He is distinguished by his humility, which is a contrast to others, who are so proud about the smallest successes. These people exaggerate their achievements to attract the admiration of others. They are ignorant of this wise saying: “Let your neighbor praise you, and not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2). Worse still is to boast about spiritual achievements, not giving glory to God but instead talking about their own faith and “effective” prayer to be praised and seen as a miraculous Christian! Of course there are miracles in the Church, but it all must be attributed to the love and power of God, and to Him be the glory, not to men. The Apostle Paul did countless miracles, ascended to Paradise and did not brag about anything. The same could be said of all the Apostles. In the Book of Acts, a beggar lame from birth was miraculously healed by the Apostle Peter in the name of Christ. The people there were amazed, so Peter addresses the crowd: “Men of Israel, why look so intently to us as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? "The faith which comes through Him -Jesus- has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all” (Acts 3:12).
It is striking that the Apostle Paul speaks not about ascending to Paradise or miracles, but his suffering, his illnesses and being persecuted for the sake of Christ. He also speaks about the “thorn” that tortures his body. He writes in the last verse of today's passage: "Most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (verse 9).
My brothers and sisters, thanks to humility and obedience to the will of God, the Apostle Paul has greatly borne the power and grace of God. Let’s try to imitate him.