This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
LIBYANS FACE GHADDAFI’S RAGE
2 Corinthians 2: 12-17
12 When I came to Troas to proclaim the good news of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord; 13but my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said farewell to them and went on to Macedonia.
14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. 15For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.
In one verse Paul turns from mundane arrangements to profound theology. Here he gives an insight into his own sense of calling. “Christ always leads us in triumphal procession” reminds the reader of Roman triumphs where the victor is preceded by burning incense, and followed by his own troops with the defeated enemies at the back, condemned to death. It’s as well to remember another violent metaphor of Paul in his first letter to Corinth (Chapter 4) when he compares the apostles to those exhibited at the back of the procession, ready to die in the arena as “theatre for the cosmos”. The crucified Christ leads the triumphant procession and his followers are likely to suffer also, so that the aroma of eternal life can simultaneously be the smell of earthly death. Paul’s language plays with the concepts of life and death in their ordinary and ultimate meanings. This way of talking may seem strained to the armchair reader but it becomes natural amongst those whose lives are at risk as they stand for truth and justice. Those brave people who stand against Ghaddafi may smell of death to those who lack their courage, but to their comrades they smell of life, even if they are killed. Eventually even Paul scratches his head at the overwhelming significance of his calling and sums up with the astonishing phrase, “We speak…as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.” To be sent by God is not to go from his presence.
21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
Jesus commands us to get rid of the roots of murder: anger, resentment, hurt and abuse. Throughout this series of commands he is using the concept of a court of judgement in an almost humorous but ultimately serious manner: he means the “court” of God’s judgment on our lives. Those who hurt or shame others by their contempt will be in danger of this judgment. Those who have sinned in this way should not risk exposing themselves at God’s altar, but should speedily put things right with the injured person. And just as it’s daft to take an issue to court, with all its costs, when you can come to agreement with your opponent, so it would be daft not to sort things out with those you’ve hurt before you get to the eternal court. Jesus says that there’s no religious short-cut to goodness: the way to God lies through our neighbour.
It’s no accident that these everyday commands come under the not-everyday heading of “murder.” Murders are committed because of the persistent refusal to deal with rage and hurt. A good reason for obeying Jesus is that he talks good sense.