First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Pentecost 2

William Loader

Pentecost 2: 7 June  2 Corinthians 4:13 - 5:1

Paul is under pressure to defend his ministry. At Corinth other missionaries have turned up with more impressive credentials. There has been a groundswell of criticism against Paul, and, as usually happens, people seem to have accumulated as much dirt as possible, including allegations that Paul collected money only to benefit himself and that when he changed his travel plans he showed himself a scatterbrain rather than a spiritual person guided by God. Worse still, he did not have an impressive presence and was no match for his rivals as far as miracles, powerful speech, and high connections were concerned. Some saw him as a rather weak pathetic figure.

Our passage is just a snippet from Paul's attempt to set things straight. The tension reaches a climax in chapters 10 - 13, but already in the context where our passage belongs we see pain and tension. In our passage we see Paul stating that he is as confident as a biblical writer, who declared: "I believed and so I spoke". Paul will not let himself be bullied by his rivals. His confidence rests, however, not in his oratory or achievements, but in his identification with Christ's death and resurrection. He is not embarrassed about not being impressive and powerful. On the contrary he is prepared to be vulnerable and take Christ and his suffering as his model. For Paul the evidence of God is not to be found primarily in impressive achievements, but in love and caring, including when it exposes one to suffering and weakness.

Paul turns it around and claims that he has been prepared to face hardship and danger precisely because he is committed to letting Christ's ministry be active through him - for them! Rather than failing them by not being sensational, he has served them with sensitivity and love. He has not been preoccupied with his status and achievements. He has been quite happy to change travel plans, if that served his caring ministry better. Paul's confidence derives from taking Christ's self-giving and resurrection as his model. Christ's resurrection is for him the assurance that he can live in hope and with confidence. He does not depend on winning people's praise. He is not looking to be elevated by popularity and influence, but to be elevated and vindicated by God, as Christ was. And even then his focus is not his own reward but being a loving and generous person. Thus he resets their focus, telling them that it is all for them.

Paul refuses to play the game the way he sees his rivals playing a game. He is clearly annoyed by the distraction which the manouverings of the rival ministers have created. Ego problems plagued ministry just as much then as they do now. Paul's way around it is not to play the game, but to assert the heart and focus of his faith. His hope rests not on outward rewards but something invisible. Ultimately by this he means: God. In the face of danger, including the mortal danger he reports in 1:8-9 , Paul rests his case and his life with God. His frail human body does not bother him, because God has a heavenly body waiting for him. This was how Paul understood resurrection: replacement of one form of existence by another. His interest is not in what it looks like or things like rewards, but in knowing that he will experience life in the presence of God - and for that he would need to be embodied to have thought, sight, hearing, etc.

Paul's confidence rests not in the details - they don't bother him - but in the fact of God. Knowing that in the end there is God serves to relieve him of worrying about the present. He believes in God. He believes in love. Therefore he has hope, Therefore he does not need to get into ministry competition with those who are criticisng him at Corinth. He just needs to be real, as Christ was. Freed from self-preoccupation, he is free to be useful in the world. We are glad he was, because even when he did, as here, have his back to the wall, he reasserted what is central and what matters. The world needs people with that kind of confidence, willing to listen and learn, who are driven not by their neediness for approval and fame, but by having truly believed they are loved and embarked on a process of letting that free them to be present and useful for others.

Gospel: Pentecost 2: 7 June Mark 3:20-35

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