Summary: Our culture is obsessed with achievement. Perhaps we have it all wrong and become more dependent on God’s grace.
We’ve Got It All Wrong!
Perhaps the most successful sitcom of all-time is the Beverly Hillbillies. The series aired on CBS from September 26, 1962 to May 23, 1971 and told the rags to riches story of a Bugtussle, Tennessee family striking oil in the Ozark Mountains. Soon after striking “black gold” the Clampetts move to Beverly Hills and television episodes were built upon the clash between the "uncivilized" hillbilly culture and the "worldly" Beverly Hills culture. Despite living in a large, beautiful mansion, the Clampetts lived as if they were still back in the mountains by retaining their old customs, their hillbilly attire, and country values. Their newfound wealth did not corrupt their core beliefs and the local culture did not change the way they lived. They lived in Beverly Hills, but were not like anything or anyone in Beverly Hills. They were true to their ideals.
I wonder that somehow we’ve all become tainted and corrupted by the world around us. It seems God’s Church and His people are slowly losing the culture war and the core values of our faith are deteriorating. Our faith is being challenged by the world and some people compromise their spiritual values for selfish achievement. It’s common knowledge that many of us are focused on achievement. No longer are we content to simply earn a living and raise God fearing, well-adjusted children. Instead, we want to amass fortunes, live in brick mansions, travel the globe, and develop high achieving, self-confident children. Years ago, a person’s social status didn’t seem too important. Rather, a person’s character and reputation meant everything especially if they lived humble, simple lives. Today, the single quality that young parents want their children to have is intelligence. Parents want their children to be smart more than anything else. Parents believe that if their children are smart they can attain higher education and have the means to make a fortune and live comfortable lives. The search for worldly success today eclipses nourishing a relationship with Jesus Christ and the development of our moral character. People are abandoning being dependent on God’s graces by thinking they know best and by pursuing their own agenda
Our Christian faith is feeding into this euphoria where our culture is climbing the ladder to success. Ministers hoping to connect with ambitious souls are preaching a whole new brand of theology called “Prosperity Theology”. Prosperity theology claims that God wants every Christian to be successful in every way, including their finances. Successful Christians are living within God’s will if they are successful because it is God’s will that we all prosper. The Biblical verse “God gives you the power to get wealth to establish his covenant” (Deuteronomy 8:18) is often cited to reinforce this position.
Somehow I think that we have it all wrong. Hitting the lottery, striking oil in our backyards, or building a financial empire is not what I think our faith is all about. If our lives are to have meaning, they must be founded upon virtue, service, and devotion to our loving Lord. Most of all, in order to truly have a meaningful faith, our faith must be purified by the fire of struggle and hardship. Christianity was not built through the prosperity of its believers, but grew through the blood of its martyrs, the sacrifices of its faithful, and the humility of each believer to carry his or her cross for the sake of the Gospel. Our personal faith is entirely dependent on God’s grace rather than personal achievement.
Today’s epistle reading from 2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9 is especially intriguing because St. Paul emphasizes his weakness and trials rather than boast about his spiritual visions, revelations, and experiences. St. Paul early on in the passage tells us how he was able to taste eternity in Paradise. Paul by vision or out-of-body experience was carried up into the third heaven (first heaven is the atmosphere, the second heaven is outer space) where he experienced a life changing personal event. The experience gave him a taste of what believers will know in eternity. Such an experience was too wonderful and magnificent to be limited by mere words. Rather than boast about this event, St. Paul chooses to boast of his weakness and suffering. Paul believes that his supernatural experience can be a temptation to fall into the sin of pride. He also explains that he was given “the thorn in the flesh” from God to prevent spiritual pride. Surely, the exceptional supernatural visions could have inflated Paul’s ego so that he felt superior to the other Christians. His thorn was given to keep him humble and aware of his weakness.
In today’s reading, St. Paul gives us an example of his weakness and his dependence on the God’s grace. Paul reminds the Corinthians that he was forced to escape the governor under King Aretas in Damascus for fear of his life (Acts 9:24). Paul was lowered down in a basket through a window to escape Jews who were trying to kill him. His escape is reminiscent of a fleeing criminal and is a sign of human weakness and humiliation. We can contrast his escape down the wall with scaling of the walls by powerful Roman military soldiers. In ancient Roman times, the first Roman soldier (over the rank of centurion) to scale a wall in the attack of a fortified city would earn a badge of honor. The “corona muralis” or wall crown was one of the highest Roman military honors rewarded and signified bravery. By contrast, Paul’s escape in a basket highlighted his weakness, humiliation, and disgrace. Yet, Paul’s escape showed the grace of God that allowed him to survive so that he could preach the Gospel. God delivered Paul so that God’s plan for his life could be fulfilled. Paul’s life was spared through his humility and dependence on God’s grace.