This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
El Salvador Court refuses termination for woman with kidney failure
2 Corinthians 3:1-18
Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
3 Are we starting to recommend ourselves again? Or do we, like some, need letters of recommendation either to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You make it clear that you are a letter from the Messiah placed in our care, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on human hearts.
4 Such is the confidence we have through the Messiah toward God. 5 It is not that we are competent in ourselves to count anything as having come from us; on the contrary, our competence is from God. 6 He has even made us competent to be workers serving a New Covenant, the essence of which is not a written text but the Spirit. For the written text brings death, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if that which worked death, by means of a written text engraved on stone tablets, came with glory — such glory that the people of Isra’el could not stand to look at Moshe’s face because of its brightness, even though that brightness was already fading away — 8 won’t the working of the Spirit be accompanied by even greater glory? 9 For if there was glory in what worked to put people in the wrong, how much more must the glory abound in what works to put people right! 10 In fact, by comparison with this greater glory, what was made glorious before has no glory now. 11 For if there was glory in what faded away, how much more glory must there be in what lasts.
12 Therefore, with a hope like this, we are very open — 13 unlike Moshe, who put a veil over his face, so that the people of Isra’el would not see the fading brightness come to an end.
14 What is more, their minds were made stonelike; for to this day the same veil remains over them when they read the Old Covenant; it has not been unveiled, because only by the Messiah is the veil taken away. 15 Yes, till today, whenever Moshe is read, a veil lies over their heart. 16 “But,” says the Torah, “whenever someone turns to Adonai, ( The Lord) the veil is taken away.”[a] 17 Now, “Adonai” in this text means the Spirit. And where the Spirit of Adonai is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us, with faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord; and we are being changed into his very image, from one degree of glory to the next, by the Lord who is the Spirit.
I’ve used the Jewish translation of this because it highlights the Jewishness of Paul’s thinking, as well as what goes beyond Judaism. I’ve also made one or two changes in verse 10 where the words ” put in the wrong” and “put right” are mine.
I was saying yesterday that Paul is a warm-hearted wheeler-dealer rather than the cold fish he’s often accused of being. This is a warm-hearted, and light-hearted riff on the story of the giving of the Torah, the divine Law, to Israel. Of course in Jewish eyes, this is playing with fire, as the gift of the Law is the most holy event in the Jewish story. Messing about with it may be blasphemy. Nevertheless, it seems to me that only a Jew could provide the mixture of reverence and intimate disrespect that Paul gives his readers here.
In fact he starts with a matter of respect. He (he says “we”) doesn’t need good references from Corinth for they themselves are his references, written by God’s Spirit on human hearts. Their lives speak for his competence, which is not his own achievement but a gift from God, enabling him to serve the New Covenant between God and humanity. This one is not, like the old Jewish one, a written text, but the gift of the Spirit. The written text, he says, is a killer, but the Spirit is life-giving.
Then he refers directly to the story in Exodus which says that Moshe’s face shone with the glory of God. Although this was a fading glory, he had to veil his face so that people could bear to look at him. If that was a glorious event, Paul asks, isn’t the coming of the Spirit an even greater glory? On the one hand, he argues. there is a Covenant which put people in the wrong -because they were always breaking it-but on the other hand here is a New Covenant by which people are put right-because God’s creative Spirit is working in their lives. And this, he concludes triumphantly, is a glory which, unlike that on Moshe’s face, will never fade away.
Christian believers don’t need to hide their faces with a veil as Moshe did. In fact the people of Israel are veiled in their understanding, so that they rejected Messiah Jesus, the Lord. But, as the Torah says, “When someone turns to Adonai (the respectful Hebrew word for God the Lord) the veil is taken away.” This is a slanted quotation of words in Exodus that refer to Moshe removing the veil when he spoke with God. Paul interprets “The Lord” as the Spirit of God/Jesus who brings freedom from fear. Those who receive the Spirit reflect with open faces the glory of God as they are progressively made over in his image. This how they are “put in the right”.
Paul, the ex-Rabbi, uses the authority of the Torah to reveal the superiority of the New Covenant instituted by Messiah Jesus. This requires the kind of nifty theological footwork exhibited in this passage, which might have got him a round of applause as the letter was read aloud in the Corinthian assembly, much as a jazzman is applauded for an inventive solo.
Were Paul alive today I suspect he might tackle Islamic Law with the same dangerous wit. He would recognise the glory of Mohammed (peace upon him), while seeing his revelation as very like that of Judaism which does not recognise the Lord who is the Spirit. The written text, he would remind us, is a killer but the Spirit is life-giving. He might add that there are plenty of Christians who prefer the killer.