Sunday, July 08, 2018

My Three ‘Go-to Verses’

(Fourteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on July 8, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Ezekiel 2: 2-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10; Mark 6: 1-6.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourteenth Sunday 2018]

You could call them my “go-to verses”: three verses of the New Testament that I call to mind quite often—especially in the midst of trial and difficulty and temptation.  These verses give me strength, and hope—and perspective (which is always a help when you’re dealing with a challenging and difficult situation in your life).

In doing this I’m taking the advice St. Paul gave to Christians in Ephesians 6 when he said, “In all circumstances hold faith up before you as your shield; it will help you extinguish the fiery darts of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.”

For St. Paul the word of God was, among other things, a weapon: a weapon that we should use to battle all those things that Satan will use to try to destroy us: fear, anger, doubt, confusion, lust, greed, etc.  Of course, to use this weapon effectively, you have to first of all know what the word of God says (which means you have to be reading your Bible), you then have to believe what you read in the word, and finally you have to cling to the truth that you find in the word.

We have a great example of this, not surprisingly, in Jesus himself.  As we all know, our Lord prepared for his three-year ministry by fasting for forty days and forty nights in the Judean desert.  When he finally finished that fast he had to have been tired, physically weak—and extremely hungry.  Satan was well aware of this, and tried to take advantage of the situation by tempting Jesus: by tempting him to say no to the mission the Father had given him to die on the cross and save the human race.

Notice how Jesus resisted the three temptations that Satan threw at him.  He did it by the power of the word; he successfully resisted the temptations of the devil by quoting Scripture to him.

  • ·         Satan said, “Command that these stones become loaves of bread.”  Jesus said, “One does not by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”  (That’s Deuteronomy 8:3.)
  • ·         Then the devil took him to the top of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. [The angels will catch you.]”—to which Jesus responded “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”  (That’s Deuteronomy 6:16.)
  • ·    Finally the devil tried to get Jesus to worship him by bribing our Lord with earthly power.  By then Jesus had had enough!  He said, “Get away, Satan!  It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord, your God; him alone shall you serve.’”    (That’s Deuteronomy 6:13.)

Here we have Jesus using the word of God like a sword to repel the attacks of the evil one.  I suppose you could say that these verses of Scripture were three of our Lord’s “go-to” Bible verses.

But it really doesn’t matter what you call them; the point to remember is that they worked!  Here Jesus, I believe, is giving us an example to imitate, an example that St. Paul obviously followed in his own life, as that text from Ephesians 6 that I read to you earlier indicates.

I mention this today because one of my three “go-to verses” is found in today’s second reading.  It’s 2 Corinthians 12:9, and it reads, “My grace is always sufficient for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection.”  Here St. Paul is talking about his “thorn in the flesh”—which was some kind of trial or suffering that God allowed him to experience, at least from time to time.  The word in Greek that Paul uses there is “skolop”.  It’s usually translated as “thorn,” but many Scripture scholars will tell you that the word is more accurately translated as “stake”.

So what was this “thorn” or “stake” in the flesh that troubled St. Paul so much?

Well, we don’t know for sure.  Some say it was the persecutions Paul often experienced when he preached the Gospel; others say it was a temptation to pride or lust or some other sin; still others say that it was a physical ailment of some kind, perhaps something that had to do with his eyes.  They say that because in Galatians 4:15 Paul wrote, “Indeed, I can testify to you that, if it had been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.”

Whatever it was, it must have been pretty bad, since Paul prayed hard (and more than once) for God to take it away.

But the Lord didn’t take it away.  He didn’t remove the stake.  For some reason (probably Paul’s growth in holiness) the Lord allowed it to continue—as he allows us to experience certain ongoing trials in our lives (which are supposed to help US grow in holiness!).

And yet, even though God didn’t take the thorn away, he promised Paul that he would always be there to give him the strength, the power and the help he needed to deal successfully with it. 

“In your weakness, Paul, my power reaches its perfection.”

When I face a trial or difficulty in my life, I imagine Jesus saying those same words to me: “My grace is always sufficient for you, Fr. Ray, for in your weakness my power within you reaches its perfection.”

2 Corinthians 12:9—it’s a great “go-to verse”.

My other two “go-to verses” are 1 John 4:4 and Philippians 4:13.  1 John 4:4 reads, “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”  Now, when I call that verse to mind I always personalize it for myself: “Greater is he who is in me [namely, Jesus] than he who is in the world [the devil].”  That verse gives me a special strength and confidence in dealing with the evil I encounter in the world—and in dealing with temptation.  It reminds me that the power of God is always greater than the power of evil; it’s also greater than the power of the temptation to do evil (which can sometimes feel very strong, as we all know).

And lastly there’s Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”  That verse reminds me that I need to trust in Jesus and rely on him in every aspect of my life, especially in challenging situations; in other words, in those circumstances when I begin to doubt my ability to do what I need to do.  Now I’m sure that St. Paul wrote these words based on his own personal experience of sharing the Gospel.  As we all well aware, St. Paul was not always “affirmed” in his apostolic ministry!  As he said in one of his letters, he was stoned once, beaten with rods three times, and scourged with forty lashes five times—among other things.  I’m sure that there were moments in the midst of all those trials when he wondered if he would have the strength to continue the mission God had given him.

But the strength came, and in the process the Lord taught him this lesson—which he shared with the Philippians 2,000 years ago and which he shares with us today: “I, Paul, can do all things—not by my own willpower and strength; rather I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me with his saving grace.”

I need to think that same thought about myself quite often—especially when the task at hand seems too great for me, and I wonder, “How am I going to do this?”

These are my three “go-to verses” (2 Corinthians 12:9; 1 John 4:4; and Philippians 4:13).

What are yours?  If you don’t have them—if you don’t have any “go-to verses” at the present time—my suggestion is that you read your Bible (especially the New Testament) and allow God to give you some. And he will!  You’ll be reading along and all of a sudden a verse will jump out at you and you’ll say, “That’s it!  That’s one of them.  That’s something I need to remember and be reminded of—especially in difficult situations.”

Then memorize the verse—and begin to use it.