This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
After 50 years, Brazilian atrocities against native peoples are revealed
2 Corinthians 5: 1-10
For I know, that if my tent on earth is demolished, I’ve got a building from God, a house not made with hands, everlasting in the heavens; and yes, in this one, I sigh with longing to be clothed with my house from heaven, as long as when I’m stripped, I’m not left naked! Encumbered as I am in this tent, I sigh, not to be stripped, but to be clothed, so that the mortal thing may be swallowed up by life.
The one who has fitted me for this makeover is God, who gave me the Spirit as a first instalment.
So since I’m always confident and know that “at home” in the body, means “away” from the Lord-here I’m walking by trust and not by sight-I am confident and would prefer to be “away” from the body and “at home” with the Lord.
But I make it my ambition to be acceptable to Him, at home or away.
For we must all appear before the tribunal of Messiah, so that each one may receive the recompense of his bodily life, according to what he’s done, whether good or bad. So, because I know the fear of the Lord, I work to persuade others, but I’m completely transparent to God, as I hope I am also to your judgement.
This is my own translation of Paul, done in the recognition that sometimes he is almost untranslatable. In this case. his sentence structure is very loose, although I think his meaning is clear enough. He dictated most of his letter to his secretary who had the unenviable task of putting his words on papyrus or parchment, with all his sudden additional thoughts and parentheses.
His metaphor of the tent is interesting. For a start we know he was by trade a tentmaker, that is a skilled worker in leather and cloth, a trade he exercised while announcing his gospel so that he would not be a burden on his hosts. He would of course have made use of tents on his journeys. In at east two senses therefore, he knew that tents could provide him with shelter. Still it’s a curious image for the human body. Possibly he was also holding in his mind the Jewish holy tent, the “ark of the covenant”, God’s earthly dwelling, which was considered in Jewish speculation to be a mere image of the true dwelling of God in heaven.
It’s important to note that he is not denigrating the body. The earthly tent is necessary while we live on earth, and we are not then left naked (as if the soul might live without a body) but clothed with a new tent, that is, a new body. All this is in tune with what he wrote in 1st Corinthians 15. In this theology he manages to combine a sober recognition of the “slavery to decay” suffered by all earthly things including the human body, with a deep respect for the body as essential to our humanity, and therefore part of our eternal future. We may call this theology “speculative” – how can Paul know these things?-but it is speculation based on Paul’s trust in the risen Jesus. It is a way of saying what must be true for us if Jesus has been raised from the dead.
He ends his flight of speculative theology but reminding his readers that resurrection does not mean escape from divine justice: in our risen bodies we all have to appear before Messiah’s tribunal. Whatever this means, I long for it, for then the clear judgement of Jesus will replace the endless self-judgements and self-justifications which cloud my conscience here. When I was younger I could not understand Paul saying he’d cheerfully give up this life for the next. The years have enlightened me.