The resilience of Paul

Throughout the letters, it is evident that Paul was a happy, even joy-filled believer. This does not mean that he had a trouble-free life — on the contrary. In later life, reflecting back on his ministry, Paul occasionally offers what scholars call “Hardships Lists”. In the preceding chapter in the same second letter to the Corinthians, for example, he writes in some detail:

Are they servants of Christ? (I am talking like I am out of my mind!) I am even more so: with much greater labours, with far more imprisonments, with more severe beatings, facing death many times. Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with a rod. Once I received a stoning. Three times I suffered a shipwreck. A night and a day I spent adrift in the open sea. I have been on journeys many times, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own countrymen, in dangers from Gentiles, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers from false brothers, in hard work and toil, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, many times without food, in cold and without enough clothing. (2Corinthians 11:23-27)

You can feel the intensity. And yet Paul remains a joy-filled follower of the Way.

All this means is that behind the brief, intense second reading, lie two key “stories”: at a first level, there is the story of Paul himself — how he came to be a believer and the apostle to the Gentiles; at a much deeper level, there is the foundational story of Jesus.

Paul never did let go of the apparent absurdity of the cross, except that the Christ-believing Paul came to a profound realisation of God’s “project” in Jesus, God’s compassionate solidarity, God’s faithfulness, God’s forgiveness and love. Such faith helped Paul make sense of his own sufferings — as a time of grace, as a call to faithfulness