The Fools Speech, Part 3

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
November 5, 2023
2 Corinthians 12:1-13

Before worship: 
In her 1995 alternative hit album, Jagged Little Pill, Anlanis Morissett had a hit titled “Ironic.” We hear of an old man who turns 98 and wins the lottery and dies the next day. And of the death row inmate whose pardon arrives two minutes too late. Rain falls one’s wedding day, while the ride’s free but you’ve already paid… “Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you,” the song goes, ‘When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right… it blows up in your face.”

I wonder if this is what Paul experiences in our passage today… Today we’ll see him follows an “out-of-the world experience” with a struggle from pain and suffering… Life is made up of the good and bad. How do we respond to all of it? 

Before reading the scriptures:
Today we come to the end of Paul’s “Fool’s Speech” in 2ndCorinthians.[1] As I have said over the past two weeks, we title for this section from Paul repeatedly referring to himself as a fool. Of course, he’s also displaying the foolishness of both the Corinthians and the missionaries who followed him. These so-called missionaries are troubling for Paul. They speak eloquently and boast about their endeavors. Paul feels they must be challenged for they are not teaching the true gospel. Yet Paul doesn’t like to boast about his doing. So, he plays the fool. 

In a way, I’m afraid not everything comes across from translation and cultures. I think this section was probably considered quite humorous in Paul’s day. After all, he employs satire and parody to make his point. 

Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-13

I had a dream this past week. It started out at a rummage sale held by the women in the church I served in Utah. I was visiting and catching up with folks I had not seen in sometime. And while we were talking, something caught my eye. It was my brother’s Cub Scout badges. Don’t ask me how I knew these were his badges, but I did. I grabbed them and paid the asking price of 50 cents. 

At this point, I became creative. I designed some stationary mimicking Boy Scout letterhead. I looked up the name of the chief scout executive at the organization’s headquarters in Irving, Texas. I then, using this stationary, wrote a letter from the Chief Scout Executive to my brother. 

Dear Warren, the letter began. I am terribly sorry we as an organization lost your Cub Scout badges. I just hope that this mistake of ours didn’t haunt you, or cause you pain, over the years. Better late than never, here are your badges. We’re just 55 years behind, but want you to have them as you’ve earned them… 

Next, in the dream, I was in the kitchen of my childhood home. My brother was there, talking about this weird letter he received which included a bobcat, wolf, and bear Cub Scout badges. The odd thing, he said, he doesn’t remember not receiving them. My mother, who was alive in my dream, was flabbergasted that the chief scout executive took the time to write her son a personal note. 

I was leaning up against the refrigerator about to bust a gut. In my dream, they both looked up and stared at me. I confessed my involvement in the mysterious letter. My mother told me I should be ashamed of myself, but she was also smiling.

I have no idea what this dream was about. However, it was good to hear my mom’s voice. Maybe, in my subconsciousness, I recalled a shenanigan I pull off in the 8th or 9th grade. One Sunday afternoon, I saw an ad for old age insurance in Parade,the Sunday magazine that came in the newspaper. It was designed for those over 65 years old (which no longer seems old). But for those this age who wanted to give their families peace of mind and help with the funeral expenses could do so with a cheap insurance policy. I thought my brother, who’s a year younger than me, might benefit from such insurance. I filled out card on his behalf and dropped it in the mailbox. 

I then forgot about it. But one day, a few weeks later, I came home from school and my mother was upset at my brother. While we were in school, an insurance salesman stopped by asking for Warren. The man seemed perplexed when my mom told him that Warren was in school. She asked what he wanted and learned about the insurance. Of course, Warren had no idea what she was talking about, but I began to laugh, and mom then knew what was up. 

My mom laid it on thick. She described to me how the man drove a car that was hitting on about three cylinders, had bald tires, and was held together with bailing wire. Then she told me about how you could almost see through his threadbare suit. She was sure he really needed this lead to pan out so he could provide dinner for his family that night… My mother was a good Southern mom, she knew how to dish out guilt. I went from thinking I’ve pulled off a great prank to feeling guilty. 

Paul, in today’s passage, moves from a great height to a deep depth. He starts off discussing being drawn up into the third heaven. The Jewish belief at this time was that the heavens had multiple stages and the third heaven expressed being taken up into the very top of it—into paradise, we might say. 

Why does Paul bring this up? Especially since he leaves a lot of specifics out. He only recalls the experience with the briefest of details while acknowledging that as a mortal, he’s not allowed to speak about it. This whole section known as the “Fool’s Speech” is directed at the so-called “Super-Apostles” who followed Paul into Corinth. We might assume they had conveyed their own mystical experiences. This would not have been uncommon in the ancient world. Even Plato, in the Republic, speaks of such experiences.[2] Paul, wanting to protect his reputation and not to be seen as less mystical, shares his own experiences.

It’s interesting Paul doesn’t say that he experienced it, but only that he knew of the person who was drawn up into the heavens. But it seems clear Paul refers to himself. Even the ancient church leaders assumed that Paul was speaking about himself and not someone else.[3] For a man who didn’t like to boast, referring to an anonymous source protects Paul’s pride. 

But as soon as Paul tells of visiting Paradise, he returns to a more familiar theme, his humility. He has this thorn in the side thanks to a messenger of Satan. It torments him and he’s asked God to remove it three times, but his request had been denied. Don’t think that all our prayers are answered in the way we’d like. Paul realizes that this problem of his (and no one thinks it’s an actual thorn that could be pulled out, but probably some kind of ailment or handicap) keeps him humble.

While Paul doesn’t find relief from the pain, Christ assures him that his grace is sufficient. Again, that theme we find repeatedly in the gospels and in Paul’s letters returns. When we depend on and trust God, we discover strength in our weakness. The last can become first. The servant can become a master. And the weak can display strength.[4] This happens because we are not alone. God is with us so Paul can proclaim in verse 10 that in he is content even in his weakness despite the insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities he endures for Christ.  “Whenever I am weak,” Paul proclaims, then I am strong!” 

Our passage concludes with the end of his “fool’s speech.” As he’s insisted all along, he was forced into playing the fool. He contrasts himself to the so called “super-Apostles,” reminding them of how he has been faithful to the Corinthians. Again, he brings it up how he didn’t even burden them for contributions for his own support. We’ve seen this several times in this letter, so it must have bothered the Apostle. Paul then ends this part of his speech in sarcasm relating to his lack of asking for support. “Forgive me for this wrong.” 

For the sarcasm, think of someone giving you something that comes with a price. But they don’t charge you for the item. Imagine a shop keeper giving you a piece of candy and instead of charging you, he asks your forgiveness for not having the privilege of paying. The gospel is that way. Instead of purchasing it through our hard work, it’s offered freely. We’re to just acknowledge the gift. 

While Paul plays the fool, he demonstrates two truths. The first one, life should be fun. We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, there is room in life for play and humor. The second is the truth of the Christian gospel. In our weakness we find strength in Christ. So, while there may be ups and downs in our lives, from the verge of Paradise to the pain of illness, we should remember that God is with us and will supply the strength needed.  

Commentaries consulted:
Barnett, Paul, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 
Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 1973, Peabody, MA: Henrickson, Publishing, 1987. 
Best, Ernest, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and 
Preaching, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1984.

[1] The “Fool’s Speech” starts in 2 Corinthians 11: 1 and goes through 12:13. See and

[2] Plato, The Republic 10:614-21.

[3] See Ambrosiaster, “Commentary on Paul’s Epistle; Chrysostom, “Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians;” Pelagius, “Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians;” and Gregory Nazianzen, “Oration 28, on the Doctrine of God.” In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VII, 1-2 Corinthians (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 302. 

[4] See Matthew 19:30, 20:8, 20:16; Mark 9:35, 10:31; Luke 13:30.

Angel statue in cemetery with fall colored leaves in background
Angel in Nester’s Cemetery (before the leaves fell)

5 Replies to “The Fools Speech, Part 3”

  1. I like to think of Paul as bald. Surely, his work among the Corinthians must have made him pull his hair out.

    1. I need to find an old photo of me, where I was wearing a long blond wig and hugging an older woman in the congregation I served in Utah. This was shortly after I arrived. The women were having a rummage sale and they thought I could use more hair. When I left, I dug out that photo and used it in my final newsletter article, saying, “When I arrived, I had more hair.”

      Paul did have his hands full with the Corinthians!

    1. I tried to wear ties that were less serious in this section of the letter (1st week: Looney Tunes; 2nd week: Yellow smiley faces; this week, Dr. Seuss).

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