Sunday Scripture reading, Oct. 11, 2020: Secret strength
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Is 25:6-10
2) Phil 4:12-14, 19-20
Gospel: Mt 22:1-14 or 22:1-10
St. Paul makes a couple of remarkable statements in today's second reading. In both cases, first impressions may be misleading.
"My God will fully supply whatever you need," Paul tells his friends in Philippi. On the face of it, Paul seems to be promising that God will make sure they never go without anything they need. But that can't be precisely what he means, since he has just acknowledged that he himself is sometimes in need, even hungry.
Paul also says, "I can do all things in him who strengthens me." Is he proclaiming there's no limit to what he can accomplish -- that he can do whatever he sets his mind to? Is Paul saying (adapting a thought sometimes attributed to Walt Disney), "If I can dream it, I can do it"? But if that's his meaning, why didn't he take care of his own basic needs and at least provide himself with a steady supply of groceries?
Another possible translation of Paul's "I can do" statement is this: I can deal with everything. I can get the better of everything. I have the strength for everything. In context, he's saying he can handle life whether he has more than he needs or doesn't have what he needs to stay alive.
He's not making a general statement about being able to do all sorts of things. He's saying he knows how to be content, no matter how much he has or lacks.
Paul says this is something he has "learned." The Greek word he uses suggests he has been initiated into a kind of secret knowledge. What is the secret? "In him who strengthens me." Paul is not saying he has become a stoic who can take any suffering without giving way to emotion.
He has not become a master of impassivity. He's saying that he has gained access to a relationship. Jesus is with him, and in Jesus he can find whatever he needs to deal with whatever God lets come his way.
This supplies the key to understanding Paul's statement about God supplying. No doubt Paul believes God will provide in a range of ways for the Philippians, but his point is deeper than that. He is assuring them that they, too, can find in Jesus the strength to persist and prevail, to go on loving and overcome despair, no matter how hard their road becomes.
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Perrotta is the editor and an author of the "Six Weeks With the Bible" series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.