June 13, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, priest and doctor of the Church

During this week, we are going to be working through St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. We began this letter before Ash Wednesday, and, now that Lent and Easter are over, we will finish the letter, but perhaps you do not remember the readings three months ago.

St. Paul’s problem is that some people have come to Corinth preaching a different kind of Christianity than Paul preached, based in the old Law and rules and not in a shared mission with God. Paul is telling the Corinthians that this new gospel is not the true gospel. He spends most of the letter trying to convince them that they ought to listen to him and not the other people.

So it is that we will be reading this week Paul’s defense of himself. He presents himself to the Corinthians in order to prove that he is the true servant of God. These self-congratulations culminate in one of my favorite lines from Paul, “I am talking like a crazy person!”, but we have to wait until Friday for that.

Paul, it seems, is disobeying the teaching that Jesus is giving in his sermon today. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, but Paul is not. He has been insulted. The false apostles have said that Paul is not really very impressive at all. Rather than humbly accept the insults, Paul is standing up for himself. He relates the many things he has suffered, the great works he has accomplished.

Paul knows that a Christian should not boast. Indeed, most of the teaching we have against boasting comes in the midst of his boasting here. He has decided to boast for a very important reason: for the glory of God. The Corinthians were beginning to doubt the Gospel that Paul had taught them. He needs to convince them that he is trustworthy, that they should believe him rather than the imposters. So he spends over half the letter boasting about what a great apostle he is.

So even boasting can be done to the glory of God. As we hear his boasting this week, we can understand that Paul is not merely bragging so that people will be impressed by him but so that people will believe him when he preaches the Gospel. For our part we should have two reactions. First, Paul really was an amazing apostle. Second, perhaps our life should be more like his.