As I was reviewing this week’s scripture readings I came across quite a juxtaposition between the reading from the second letter to the Corinthians on Sunday (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) in which St. Paul speaks of a “thorn in the flesh” and the Gospel of Matthew on Monday (Matthew 9:18-26) in which a woman who has suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years reaches out to Jesus for healing.
In the first instance, St. Paul refers to an on-going trial in his life. He has begged the Lord “three times . . . that it might leave [him], but he has answered . . .‘My grace is enough for you.’” Basically, St. Paul has asked the Lord for help and the Lord has said, “No, this is something that you need to deal with. The suffering has a purpose. I am with you, but you need to endure and continue to be faithful.
In the second instance, the woman has suffered for twelve years. Not only has she suffered physically, but spiritually as well, for in the Jewish tradition she was ritually unclean. Yet, she summons every ounce of her courage and reaches out to Jesus, believing that if she just touches his cloak that she will be healed. What faith she demonstrates! And she is rewarded for that faith. “Jesus turned round and saw her; and he said to her, ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has saved you.’”
Both St. Paul and the woman have faith. Both have problems that are causing them great pain and suffering. Yet, one is healed and one is told to keep on bearing the burden. What is the lesson for us in these two scripture readings? The first lesson is that we need to ask the Lord for help. What are the thorns in our own lives? We all have some – the nagging problems that won’t seem to go away no matter what we do. These problems may be physical difficulties, mental or emotional struggles, or a struggle with temptation and sin. These problems may even be issues we have with another person in our lives. Whatever the particular thorn might be, we need to bring it to the Lord in prayer. We need to humble ourselves and, emulating the woman’s courage and faith, believe that God will heal us.
But, what if He doesn’t? What if like St. Paul, He looks at our pain and difficulties, and tells us, “I’m sorry. My grace is with you, but this suffering is something that you need to go through. There is a lesson here for you, and you need to learn it.” What do we do then? I believe that the answer is that we keep praying. We can accept the answer and accept the suffering while continuing to bring it to God in prayer, asking for help and healing. I found it interesting that St. Paul had asked the Lord for help three times. I understand that St. Paul had a much closer communication channel with the Lord than I do, but I have found in my life that there are times when I have had to pray to God for years to finally get peace and resolution to an issue. Yes, God had a lesson for me to learn, and in hindsight, I can appreciate the need for the suffering. I believe that the continued prayer helped me have the grace to endure the suffering, helped me learn the lesson that I needed to learn, and helped the resolution finally occur, often in better ways than I could ever imagine. God knows what is best for us. We simply need to have courage and always ask for help.