Pentecost +6 - Year B
For Paul who has boasted and still is tempted to do so there is a gift of a “thorn in the flesh”. There are many approaches to what such a “thorn” might be. I recommend a recent book by R.W. Holmen, A Wretched Man - A Novel of Paul the Apostle which incorporates recent scholarship into a novel genre.
In light of the previous scriptures for the day we might posit a thorn as the gift of not-so-loyal oppositionists in the body of the congregations Paul catalyzed. We can’t get too literal here and think that a thorn is a thorn is a thorn. Nazareth was a thorn in the side of Jesus and it led to new evangelistic methodologies - disciples sent out two by two and acting before they graduated.
Jerusalem was held by the Jebusites, thorns in David’s military career. Jerusalem becomes Temple Central.
The non-Israelite kings are imaged as gathered together and a thorn in Israel’s safety and security. G*D is then imaged as a “world-King”, in Peterson’s phrasing.
Thorns sharpen our attention and lead to new directions. If only fleshly pain, the new direction would be backward. In these cases, the thorn becomes something you head into to find a blessing hidden up until now. Thorns are not unlike cracks in cosmic eggs that allow a new stage of growth.
Consider that Paul is talking about a temptation to comfort and control that becomes particularly evident when dealing with late adapters to a new way to paradise. They don’t get it as quickly as Paul can hint at and theorize about a mystery he has heard in a once and future paradise. Paul wants to be a partner with folks who only are looking for a parent. This is a thorny place to be.
Now, who is that thorn in your side? Know that they are not going to leave. Can you be content to simply work on your integrity and telling as much truth as you can? Are you willing to wrestle with/meditate on suffering? Such as these will not let you to be in control, but they will strengthen you to be creative in the face of misunderstanding and rejection.
Honor the thorn even as you rejoice in the flower.