This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
WISCONSIN ATTACK ON TRADE UNION RIGHTS
2 Corinthians 12:11-21
11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it. Indeed you should have been the ones commending me, for I am not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. 12The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, signs and wonders and mighty works. 13How have you been worse off than the other churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!
14 Here I am, ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, because I do not want what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15I will most gladly spend and be spent for you. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16Let it be assumed that I did not burden you. Nevertheless (you say) since I was crafty, I took you in by deceit. 17Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? 18I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Titus did not take advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves with the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?
19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? We are speaking in Christ before God. Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up. 20For I fear that when I come, I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; I fear that there may perhaps be quarrelling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21I fear that when I come again, my God may humble me before you, and that I may have to mourn over many who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness that they have practised.
This is part of a letter, (2 Corinthians 10-13) which most scholars agree is Paul’s critical response to his visit to Corinth in which his credentials as an apostle were challenged. It was sent before chapters 1-9 of 2 Corinthians which seems to have been a reconciling letter after the Corinthians had apologised. His statement that he’s a fool refers to his ironic boasting about his spiritual experiences as an apostle, although he emphasises he would rather boast about his sufferings. Here his exasperation is evident, especially at those he calls “super-apostles”, top-of-the-range-apostles, as we might say. These are purveyors of a kind of “religious knowledge” which in Paul’s opinion by-passes ethical living and the cross of Christ, a faith without costly discipleship. In the end he warns them that bad behaviour is just bad and will destroy their community. Time and again in the history of the church super-apostles infiltrate communities with something glossy that proves popular because it grants spiritual kudos without doing justice, loving mercy or walking humbly with God. Paul’s Jewish heritage helps him prevent Christianity from becoming another “new-age” cult.
13 ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. 15 ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will know them by their fruits.
21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
The commonsense wisdom of Jesus is evident in this passage, which uses proverbial expressions to warn against hypocrisy. The way to life goes through a narrow gate; the road to hell is wide open. (We should remember that John’s gospel records Jesus saying, “I am the gate”). He proposes a test for prophets: what do they produce in their own lives and the lives of others? Goodness is not accidental, Jesus says, it is produced by good people. A difficult consequence of this teaching is that when we detect bad fruit we can’t start by altering the fruit: we have to alter the tree. Goodness is an expression of character which develops from experience of human and divine love. The church has to learn in every generation how to reject emotional attachment to Jesus without fundamental attachment to the will of the Father in heaven.
“You will know them by their fruits” may be a good motto for the Wisconsin legislature. Throughout their history Trades Unions have produced much good wherever they have existed. The same cannot be said of unbridled capitalism.