NORMAN — The Rev. Holly McKissick, pastor, Peace Christian Church UCC: The first time it wasn’t a thorn but a piece of glass. I was 9 years old on a hot day in Texas. I’d been catching crawdads in the creek with my best friend, Misty, when I stepped on a broken bottle. Misty called for help. My brother carried me up the bank. My mom rushed me to the doctor in our old Pontiac.
The next time I was 49, and it was a thorn. It would have worked its way out if I had taken a break from running. I didn’t. One of the doctors in my church saved me, performing “surgery” while her boys diverted my attention from the pain.
Scholars debate what Paul meant by a “thorn in his flesh.” He described weaknesses, insults and persecutions. He was beaten, stoned and shipwrecked. He was in danger in the city, the wilderness and at sea. It’s still unclear what he meant in Corinthians.
Whether a broken arm or broken heart, it’s clear: Paul was vulnerable, and he was lost on his own. He knew it. He was completely dependent on God’s grace.
I can’t feel the cut in my foot, but I can still feel the arms of those who held me. Maybe the point of the thorns is to remind us of our connectedness, especially when we are tender or lost.
We are made whole by the love that surrounds us.
Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy: “Thorn in my flesh” is a direct quotation from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. It might be a paraphrase of Numbers 33:55, when the Israelites are warned that the Canaanite nations are to be dispossessed. If, however, they allow them to remain, they will be like “stingers in your eyes and thorns in your sides.”