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.
2 Corinthians 2New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
2 1 So I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came, I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice; for I am confident about all of you, that my joy would be the joy of all of you. 4 For I wrote to you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
Forgiveness for the Offender
5 But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you. 6 This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; 7 so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 I wrote for this reason: to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. 11 And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
12 When I came to Troas to proclaim the good news of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord; 13 but 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. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many;[a] but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.
Paul sets about mending his relationship with the Corinthians Assembly, by admitting that there has been hurt on both sides. He explains his refusal to visit them after some of them had questioned his credentials as an emissary of Messiah Jesus as a means of avoiding further personal conflict and of minimising hurt. He protests that they should be his joy rather than his pain, and that he should be a joy to them. In these words he refers to what I have called “interbeing” – the lives of Paul and his converts are not separate from each other as all of them share The life of Jesus Messiah.
In his second letter to them ( we have it as 1st Corinthians,) he had advocated turning an offender over to Satan, that is expelling him from the Assembly. Perhaps this is the man for whom Paul now urges forgiveness and restoration, for his shame may push him tomwards evil rather than away from it. This is a perennial problem with ex – communication as a form of church discipline; it may be destructive rather than restorative. Again Paul emphasises the interbeing of God’s people; their forgiveness is also his and his forgiveness is shared with Jesus.
Paul proceeds to share his sense of anxiety about the Corinthians. When he was in Troas and found an opportunity to communicate the gospel, he was so keen to meet Titus and get news from Corinth that he crossed over to Macedonia in search of him, and did receive from him good news from the Corinthians.
The thought of that journey and perhaps of all the journeys he’s made, prompts Paul to see himself and the other emissaries of Jesus Messiah as caught up in something like a Roman triumph. This image has already been used by Paul in this correspondence, comparing the emissaries to the prisoners at the back of a procession who are made to suffer for the entertainment of others. ” we are theatre for the kosmos” he wrote. Here the image is used more positively. The emissaries are now seen as active sharers in Jesus’ victory march through the world. In Roman processions perfumed petals were scattered on the parade like ticker – tape. For those who join or cheer the victory march of Jesus this perfume is the sweet smell of life; for the powers that have opposed him, it is the smell of death. In fact Paul says the smell is from death to death, reminding his readers that it is victory march of the crucified messiah, from whose death comes death to those who desire evil; from whose risen life comes life and forgiveness to those who desire goodness. It’s a complex metaphor, but it carries a magnificent meaning.
So magnificent indeed that it reminds Paul of his own inadequacy as an emissary. “Who is up for these things?” he asks. His intended answer is not himself as some translations suggest. No, he is weak and inadequate while play-acting top of the range emissaries are sure of their game. Only the wounded will want to march with the crucified Messiah.
It’s easy to pass over passages like this that seem to deal with long- forgotten squabbles. But as I stop to look at this one I’m reminded of the astonishing coherence and depth of Paul’s ordinary thinking, at how his intellect and imagination are transparent to the story of Jesus.