Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
If You Cannot Pray Like Paul (5th Epiphany A)
Updated: Feb 26, 2020
“If You Cannot Pray Like Paul”
5th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A)
February 9, 2020
1 Corinthians 2:1-16 (CEB)
1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I didn’t come preaching God’s secrets to you like I was an expert in speech or wisdom. 2 I had made up my mind not to think about anything while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and to preach him as crucified. 3 I stood in front of you with weakness, fear, and a lot of shaking. 4 My message and my preaching weren’t presented with convincing wise words but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. 5 I did this so that your faith might not depend on the wisdom of people but on the power of God. 6 What we say is wisdom to people who are mature. It isn’t a wisdom that comes from the present day or from today’s leaders who are being reduced to nothing.7 We talk about God’s wisdom, which has been hidden as a secret. God determined this wisdom in advance, before time began, for our glory. 8 It is a wisdom that none of the present-day rulers have understood, because if they did understand it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory! 9 But this is precisely what is written: God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or that haven’t crossed the mind of any human being [Isa 64:4]. 10 God has revealed these things to us through the Spirit. The Spirit searches everything, including the depths of God. 11 Who knows a person’s depths except their own spirit that lives in them? In the same way, no one has known the depths of God except God’s Spirit. 12 We haven’t received the world’s spirit but God’s Spirit so that we can know the things given to us by God. 13 These are the things we are talking about—not with words taught by human wisdom but with words taught by the Spirit—we are interpreting spiritual things to spiritual people. 14 But people who are unspiritual don’t accept the things from God’s Spirit. They are foolishness to them and can’t be understood, because they can only be comprehended in a spiritual way. 15 Spiritual people comprehend everything, but they themselves aren’t understood by anyone. 16 Who has known the mind of the Lord, who will advise him? [Isa 40:13] But we have the mind of Christ.
St. Paul writes the following to the church at Corinth: "1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I didn’t come preaching God’s secrets to you like I was an expert in speech or wisdom. 2 I had made up my mind not to think about anything while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and to preach him as crucified. 3 I stood in front of you with weakness, fear, and a lot of shaking. 4 My message and my preaching weren’t presented with convincing wise words but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. 5 I did this so that your faith might not depend on the wisdom of people but on the power of God. … 12 We haven’t received the world’s spirit but God’s Spirit so that we can know the things given to us by God."
By his own admission, Paul wasn’t a great preacher. If you know the words to one of our great hymns, you already know this: “If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul, You can tell the love of Jesus, and say ‘He died for all’” (The Hymnal 1982 #676). Notice that only Peter is credited as the great preacher. Paul was known for his prayers and his writings, but not for his eloquent sermons. He was not a charismatic speaker; he didn’t attract large crowds; he was no dynamic preacher.
But Paul was knowledgeable, hardworking, and determined (some might call him stubborn). Paul was well trained as a scholar of the Bible and he knew how to write convincingly. Even if he was a little rough around the edges, he showed up. Paul cared for people, he argued with people, and he didn’t give up on the love and grace of Jesus because he knew how much God’s love and grace had changed him. He knew what it was like to experience grace and forgiveness. That’s why he later writes, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- and I’m the biggest sinner of all” (1 Timothy 1:15, CEB).
Paul writes to the Corinthians to remind them not to get caught up in what is flashy and shiny. They shouldn’t chase after what the rest of the world calls wise and impressive. Oratory and rhetoric, speaking eloquently and convincingly, were very important skills in Paul’s day. In an era before radio or television, many people found their entertainment by going to the town square and listening to philosophers debate various topics. And you convinced crowds of people to listen to you by speaking boldly, having an impressive voice, and (maybe) by making strong, intelligent arguments.
Paul admits that he can’t do any of those things very well. He says he didn’t preach as “an expert in speech or wisdom” (2:1). He came to preach the simple message that Jesus Christ was crucified and he died for all people. He even says that he “stood in front of you with weakness, fear, and a lot of shaking” (2:3). How difficult is it to trust a public speaker who visibly appears nervous? How hard is it to take someone seriously when their voice trembles and cracks as they speak? Paul is admitting that he is bad at this preaching/speaking thing.
But despite all these deficits, he still founded this church in Corinth. These Corinthian people heard a timid, inarticulate speaker, but weren’t repelled. Because what he said didn’t sound like ordinary human wisdom. It sounded divine. It sounded like it came from a God who loved them and cared about them, even if their weakness, poverty, and social disadvantage. Paul is reminding them that God used him, a broken and imperfect vessel to share the Gospel with them.
They don’t need fancy things or flashy skills. They just need to trust in the grace of God given especially to the meek and humble. They need to trust that Jesus loves them enough to die for them and rise again in glory so that they also can have new life. They need to trust that the Holy Spirit lives in them and among them. Paul’s message of a crucified Savior seems unbelievable, but when it’s paired with the message of resurrection it changes lives. Death doesn’t have the last word, but God gives victory over death.
Jesus showed us that we can overcome. God chose Paul, the bad preacher, to become the most influential church planter in Church History. Earlier in the letter, Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that they weren’t “wise” or “powerful” or “from the upper class,” but that “God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong. And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life--what is considered to be nothing--to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing” (1 Cor 1:26-28).
Good News of the Week: God doesn't call the equipped; God equips the called! You have the Holy Spirit, so you have all the wisdom you need to share the love and grace of Jesus Christ with your friends and neighbors. Don’t underestimate yourself because Jesus loves you as you are and will give you all you need to do God’s will.
“If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul, You can tell the love of Jesus, and say ‘He died for all.’” Amen.
Unlike Stanley, St. Paul did stutter... (NBC's The Office)