FOR READERS: I have just started a new blog: xtremejesus.co which is intended to contribute to political and social debate from the point of view of the Jesus tradition. Some have found difficulty in accessing the site from their search engines and browsers. At present, Google Chrome gives it easily.
MEANWHILE, this old faithful blog continues to explore Paul’s Corinthian correspondence day by day. At present it is dealing with 2 Corinthians. I’m assuming that all his Corinthian letters were sent from Ephesos. The news headline is a reminder of the world we live in.
FAT RICH AMERICAN CONTINUES TO ABUSE MEXICO
2 CORINTHIANS 1
-11 We should like you, our brothers, to know something of what we went through in Asia. At that time we were completely overwhelmed, the burden was more than we could bear, in fact we told ourselves that this was the end. Yet we believe now that we had this experience of coming to the end of our tether that we might learn to trust, not in ourselves, but in God who can raise the dead. It was God who preserved us from imminent death, and it is he who still preserves us. Further, we trust him to keep us safe in the future, and here you can join in and help by praying for us, so that the good that is done to us in answer to many prayers will mean eventually that many will thank God for our preservation.
Our dealings with you have always been straightforward
12-14 Now it is a matter of pride to us—endorsed by our conscience—that our activities in this world, particularly our dealings with you, have been absolutely above-board and sincere before God. They have not been marked by any worldly wisdom, but by the grace of God. Our letters to you have no double meaning—they mean just what you understand them to mean when you read them. We hope you will always understand these letters (as we believe you have already understood the purpose of our lives), and realise that you can be as honestly proud of us as we shall be of you on the day when Christ reveals all secrets.
15-18 Trusting you, and believing that you trusted us, our original plan was to pay you a visit first, and give you a double “treat”. We meant to come here to Macedonia after first visiting you, and then to visit you again on leaving here. You could thus have helped us on our way towards Judea. Because we had to change this plan, does it mean that we are fickle? Do you think I plan with my tongue in my cheek, saying “yes” and meaning “no”? We solemnly assure you that as certainly as God is faithful so we have never given you a message meaning “yes” and “no”.
19-22 Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom Silvanus, Timothy and I have preached to you, is himself no doubtful quantity, he is the divine “yes”. Every promise of God finds its affirmative in him, and through him can be said the final amen, to the glory of God. We owe our position in Christ to this God of positive promise: it is he who has consecrated us to this special work, he who has given us the living guarantee of the Spirit in our hearts. Are we then the men to say one thing and mean another?
I have never wanted to hurt you
23-24 No, I declare before God that it was to avoid hurting you that I did not come to Corinth. For though I am not responsible for your faith—your standing in God is your own affair—yet I can add to your happiness.
The first bit of this passage provides facts about Paul although the picture is a little fuzzy. Clearly his life was in danger. It could have been illness but sounds more like an external threat. We don’t know if this is the same incident he refers to elsewhere as “fighting with wild beasts in Ephesos” In my book on Paul I’ve chosen to depict him and the Christian assembly as under threat because they can be targeted as “not Roman”, just as some in the UK are targeting Muslims as “not British.” But that’s an invention. Paul tells his readers it was so severe that only trust in God brought him through. It’s relevant in context because the Corinthians are bound up with their own dissension, without realizing the dangers faced by the emissaries of the gospel. He asks for his readers’ solidarity through their prayers.
Then he addresses their criticism that he has not returned personally as he promised – perhaps his promises can’t be trusted? He takes this opportunity to say something magnificent. Messiah Jesus is not a person of yes–and-no; rather in a literal translation he is the “yes and Amen” to all the promises of God, that is, he is the joyful welcome to the fulfilment of the promises, and the final assurance that they have been fulfilled. Can we trust in the promised rescue of God’s children? In Jesus we can say yes and amen. Will God deliver on his promise that the faith of his people will be a blessing to all people? In Jesus, we can say yes and amen. Can we believe that the creator God is making all things well? In Jesus, we can say, yes and amen. Will it ever be true that death is defeated? In Jesus we can say, yes and amen. This is a wonderful and startling picture of Jesus which arises simply out of defending his change of timetable.
As emissaries of the Jesus who is yes and amen to God’s promises, will Paul and his colleagues play fast and loose with their promises? Paul explains that if he had come to Corinth in his anger, he might indeed have hurt people, so he decided to wait. He assures them that his desire is to make them happy rather than hurt, and that he will come to them when he can.
It’s interesting that a splendid piece of theology emerges, not from an explicitly theological passage, but from a mundane apology for a change of plans. When the mind focuses on theological matters it often is too disciplined to be playful, but when it relaxes, as here, it can create something wonderful.. According to the Christian tradition, eventually the woes of the world will be transformed into the happy laughter of God and his children. Sometimes theology can benefit from a foretaste of the laughter of God.