‘From glory to glory’, 2 Corinthians, commentary on select verses
Year 1, Week 10, Monday Glenroy 1977
“the sufferings of Christ abound in us” 2 Corinthians 1:5
The suffering of Christ is not locked up and individualistic. It is a suffering of all mankind for all mankind.
So that when I endure some hardship – as long as it is due to good, not sin – the suffering I experience is at one with Jesus’ suffering. Just as we are one in our humanity, so too we are one in our suffering; his suffering is for all mankind and my suffering is for all mankind and for Christ. By undergoing the same experience, I become one with the person who has that experience. My suffering is his and his suffering is mine. We are one body in our suffering. As man and woman become one body by their pleasure, so all who suffer become one body with each other.
Therefore, we are not alone. We are not separate ‘cells’, each enduring our private agony. All suffering is a public event with a social dimension, a suffering of all mankind for all mankind. We form the community of those marked out. And above all we are not separate from Christ. He heads the community of those who suffer. But if we can turn to him to remove the bitterest aspects of suffering, he had no one, for no one could equal his suffering, just as no one could equal his greatness. He who had the fullness of talent suffered the fullness of loss when he saw that talent rejected and destroyed. He who had the most to offer suffered most in the failure of his project. He who had the deepest appreciation of humans and God felt with utter keenness the cutting off from mankind and God.
Therefore, he suffered alone. There was none to comfort him. Therefore, no person can be alone in suffering again.
There had to be one who would suffer alone, so that mankind could solve the loneliness of suffering. There could only be one man who would suffer entirely alone. There had to be one, so that all suffering could be linked and the human race preserved: for solitary pain fragments our race as does solitary joy.
Therefore, if we suffer, it is the suffering of Christ and ours – all one thing – that we experience.
“As you are partakers in the sufferings, so too you partake in the consolation.” 2 Corinthians 1.7
Paul adduces at this point in his argument a catch-phrase which sums up the essentials of Christian spirituality. Only by sharing in the sufferings of Christ can one receive the consolation of the Holy Spirit. It is the spirituality of the cross.
Not all who are afflicted suffer. Suffering requires a certain attitude of mind, a certain receptivity, a certain humility. Suffering means allowing the affliction to enter the spirit, to fashion and change. The damned are afflicted but they reject their affliction. It does not touch them and therefore cannot be turned to good. The rejection of the suffering only adds to their suffering.
Whenever a person suffers, they suffer with Christ. Those who truly suffer do not suffer alone. It is not possible to be alone in one’s suffering because Christ has preceded us. One can only be partaker in suffering. Only one has fully suffered as only one has fully died. Since the death of Christ no one can die alone therefore no one can suffer alone. Suffering has done its worst and been found wanting. Death and suffering are overcome. They are shown to be powerless.
To the one who allows suffering, the eyes of God are drawn. The one who trembles at his word and who shakes in suffering cannot but bend God to his need. If the sufferings are many, the consolation is one. The myriad forms of evil which try to dismember are replaced by the one Spirit who unites. This consolation of the Consoler does not turn back the clock. We are not deprived of our history because the tide has been reversed. The consolation makes the wounds glorious. Rays shine from the pierced hands and side. What was evil is now good. It does not cease to be terrible: it becomes honourable.
The consolation that comes to Christ, so that he is raised in the Spirit, also comes to the sharer of his sufferings. The same Spirit raises the like victim. We share in the consolation of Christ. His history is ours, if we allow it.
East Doncaster, 1989
“Indeed, as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so, through Christ, does our consolation overflow.” 2 Corinthians 1.5
The Second Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians is in fact a collection of excerpts from other letters. It speaks powerfully of the contrasts of light and dark, of suffering and joy: the paschal mystery.
Therefore, the letter opens with Paul exulting in his experience of the paschal mystery.
His life as a Christian and especially as a missionary has made him experience something of the sufferings of Christ. In the tribulations of his own life, he has known the trial of Christ. The similarity of the experience has opened him to the sufferings of Christ. These he now knows from within. He has entered into the passion of Christ.
At the same time, Paul also knows the consolation that Christ experienced in the resurrection. This consolation has overflowed into him and through him to others. Paul is thus the bearer of the Spirit and the communicator of the Spirit, from his own self. He is in himself the place where the paschal mystery has become real.
We ourselves undertake our Christin faith with the knowledge that it will lead us to experience the sufferings and the resurrection of Christ from within. It is in our own bodies that these things will be known. Therefore, already, in this life, we share the condition of eternity, of the eternally crucified and risen One and therein find the consolation of Spirit.
Year 1, Week 10, Tuesday Burwood 1981
“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “Yes and No”; but in him it is always “Yes.” For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.” For this reason, it is through him that we say the “Amen,” to the glory of God.”2 Cor 1:19-20
Inconsistency is part of our human predicament. We are a mixture of yes and no. Our choices are partial and lacking in wholeheartedness. Our resolutions are broken, we are unfaithful to the most solemn vows. We cannot choose good without also partially rejecting it. Our choice of the good is partial. So too is our choice of evil – fortunately. It gives us hope of being freed from our sins. Our choice of evil is not final; our choice of good is not complete.
But with Christ there is consistency. His choice for good is a simple ‘yes’, with the simplicity of divinity. He is human, but he does not share our inconsistency. He is simply ‘yes’. He is God’s ‘yes’ to mankind, God’s choice of those that in Christ. He is also mankind’s ‘yes’ to God. Where Adam said no, and mankind is forever saying ‘yes and no’, Christ says ‘yes’, on his behalf and ours. Christ is ‘yes’. Through him at last we can say ‘yes’, ‘Amen’ to all that is born in God.
Our blessedness will be to put off our inconsistency and to become capable of the truth, saying yes and meaning yes, being yes, clear, without fear, without shadow, straightforward and calm, direct and sharp as a sword, united, faithful, holy as God is holy.
“He has assured us all …. He has anointed us marking us with his seal, giving us the pledge, the Spirit that we carry in our hearts.” 2 Corinthians 1:22
With this series of phrases, Paul is attempting to explain the effect of ‘standing in Christ’. The Spirit is an anointing, a seal, a pledge. From faith in Christ comes an experience that is confirming in every sense.
It is the work of God in the first place. The imparting of the Spirit is the act of the Father upon those who are in the Son. The Christian is in a Trinitarian relationship.
The Spirit is an anointing. The oil poured on the heads of kings and prophets of old is replaced by the far greater empowering: the Spirit of God. Not something of earth, symbolic though it may be, like oil. It is from above, entirely, from the eternal God, eternal and God. The Christian is Christ because anointed. He occupies the same function as the Christ. He moves with the same power and authority.
The Holy Spirit is the seal of God. It is the firm ratification of what has occurred in Christ. The act completed in Christ is confirmed in the Holy Spirit. What we are, our basic character and nature, is established. As human beings, as divine beings, we are.
The Holy Spirit is the pledge. The future is assured. We know that the kingdom is ours. The culmination of all things is definite, since God is definite. His plan will be fulfilled and we have a definite part in that. We are already citizens of heaven because we have the firm pledge.
The future is already in us. What we are to be, we are already. The seed contains the tree and ‘the child is father to the man’. With the gift of the Spirit from the Father to those who are with the Son, the future of mankind is assured. We have our pledge, our token, our ticket. We have won. The prize will be given.
East Doncaster, 1989
“I swear by God’s truth, there is no Yes and No about what we say to you.” 2 Corinthians 1.18
The experience of the paschal mystery is total. The endurance of humiliation and death is total; the resurrection is complete. Death and Life have been experienced to the full. The pascal mystery cannot be undone.
So too in the Christian, such as Paul, who has experienced the paschal mystery, there is a simplicity and directness. The sharing in Christ’s death is complete so that there is no vacillation before threats and dangers. The experience of resurrection is complete so that there is no life to be sought apart from the life of Christ risen.
This is because the gift of Spirit is complete. The Father expresses himself completely in the proceeding of Spirit. Person is communicated in Person without any shadow of portion. It is a total giving of self in the fine point of the soul. Likewise, the emission by the Son is complete, there being no disobedience to the inspiration of the Father.
The Christian shares this same simplicity and directness.
There, there is in us no ‘yes and no’, but only Yes! The Spirit is the Yes of the Father towards the Son and the Yes of the Son towards the Father. This Yes is said to us too and so we share in that Spirit, the mutual Yes of Father and Son, who is Person of the Person, their mutual Yes.
Year 1, Week 10, Wednesday Glenroy 1977
Jeremiah had prophesied the future gift of the Spirit. Paul and his fellows oppose the primacy of the Law and argue in favour of the new covenant written on the heart, the Spirit poured out. ‘You can point, if you like,’ Paul effectively says to those beloved of signs and wonders, ‘to the theophanies of Sinai, but the theophanies of the future will be more startling’.
If the giving of death was accompanied by thunder and lightning, the giving of the Spirit will be accompanied by the moon turning to blood and the sun going black. If death produced such a glow on the face of Moses, the Spirit will transfigure our whole bodies.
For there can be no divine event which does not have deep consequences on the whole fabric of creation.
And we look forward to this coming fullness of Spirit. Let earth fall away and the weakness of our bodies. Let all that is to pass disappear and let that Spirit come which preserves what is good and eternal. The judging Spirit will seize upon what is useful to his task, and omit the useless. The creating Spirit will make a new world. Of the countless multitudes he will make one body. Of the countless dead he will make useful lives. Of the grime and chaos, he will make order and beauty. Of the weak he will make the strong. These are his signs, this is the glory that will follow upon his coming.
“Now if the ministry of death, chiselled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory?”2 Corinthians 3:7-8
The account of Moses receiving the Tables of the Law describes the splendour and the darkness of the scene, the lightning and the clouds. But it was a Law which could not be observed, for it did not have the Spirit of life in it. It held up the ideal but did not give the means to achieve it. The place was shown but not the way to it. The Promised Land was pointed out but the courage to enter it was absent.
Therefore, it could not but be a Law that condemned. It doomed to frustration. It showed the goal but, tantalisingly, held it out of human reach.
Nevertheless, it was good that such be the case. How could people desire the means if they did not see the beauty of the goal? How could they desire the original if they did not see the model? How could they hope for heavenly things if they did not see earthly things? The Law is a training for true justification. Therefore, its granting occurs rightfully in splendour.
But all that was a preparation for the event on the mount. The disciples Peter, James and John receive a greater law in a greater splendour. They receive not tables of stone but the living Christ. The will of God is engraved in him, no! lived in him, no! he is himself the new law, yet a person; an ideal, yet a friend; the place where God dwells with humans, a place which is a person, a freedom, a love, a fidelity, a source of life. The future body is shown and the courage to be part of him is given.
On the mount of the transfiguration, what was foreshadowed on Sinai is accomplished. The new law is given and with it the ability to observe it, because the new law is not words but the Word, not stone but a heart, not man but God-man, not a command but a communication of the Spirit. Not a communication of Spirit without the new law, for the Spirit comes from Christ and leads to him. It is the communication of Word and Spirit which replaces Law and death – on the mount of the Transfiguration.
Year 1, Week 10, Thursday Glenroy 1977
“… not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. … And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:13,18
Moses saw the glory of God on the holy mountain, and his face radiated this glory before the people of Israel. Yet this glory faded with the passage of time so that Moses, in shame, placed a veil on his face.
Jesus, on the mount of transfiguration, was overshadowed by the glory of God; his whole person and his clothes gleamed with light as they were changed in glory. Moses and Elijah spoke with him and the whole scene took place before the three main apostles who were overjoyed to be there.
Or again: we ourselves have seen the glory of the Lord. We are like Moses, yet greater than Moses.
For we have not a Law bound to time and place, and outgrown like the experiences of youth. We have the Perfect Man, the Future Man, the fullness of humanity made divine. This is the glory before us. This is what we glimpse on our mountain, our peak experience.
Already we reflect the brightness of the Lord in the whiteness of our baptismal robe, in the glistening of oil on our foreheads, in the peace of our spirit and the joy in our hearts.
This does not fade, as did the effect of glory in Moses. It can only increase – so long as we continue to gaze on the brightness of the Future Man – until we are changed, metamorphosed, transfigured and become the Future Man.
For it is the glory of God that each should be transfigured in every way: in body, yes, in mind and spirit, yes, but in essential nature too: for we begin as human, of human origin; but by the overriding work of the Spirit we become divine, of divine origin, so that we too become Light from Light and God from God.
To him who has headship in all belongs the quality of only-begotten. To us who are second-born belongs the quality of begotten of God, not of the will of man or urge of flesh.
That will be our final glory: to be seen as of divine origin, chosen before the foundation of the world, transfigured even in our source.
Year 1, Week 10, Friday Glenroy 1977
“Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 4.15
Upon Jesus, at the moment of baptism, the voice of God came saying “you are my beloved Son’; at the moment of death, the Spirit of God came upon Jesus making him Lord and Christ; at the moment of preaching, the good news is given to the people, making of them children of God.
To the more and more faithful, this word of favour is said; to all who receive it and allow it, this word of favour is spreading, this grace, this gift of reconciliation, God’s initiative.
And as we see this sheer goodness and experience its encouragement, as we see the expansion and joy of our being as we see the resolution of all complexities and the breaking of sin – we cry out in praise and thanksgiving, blessing the one who blessed us.
For it is the dialogue of the Spirit. God speaks to us his Spirit, speaks to us in the Spirit, and we in return praise him in the Spirit, returning him his Spirit. What he has given us is his, but he gives it as ours and we give it as ours to him. He blesses us, we bless him for blessing us. He recognises us, we acknowledge him. He calls us ‘Son’ and we call him Father. He makes us real and we make his reality real in our world.
For it is a contract, a covenant, not as between equals, but as between individuals; not that we are par but that we are persons, free, conscious, willing.
Thus, it is a liturgy of the Spirit: grace multiplied and thanksgiving abounding; it is a blessing all about: God blessing man and man blessing God for his blessing.
Year 1, Week 11, Monday East Doncaster, 1989
“We beg you once again not to neglect the grace of God that you have received.” 2 Corinthians 6.10
Last week’s readings from 2 Corinthians were a commentary on the feast of Pentecost. They spoke of the contrast between Law and Spirit, of the experience of Moses on Sinai and of Christian destiny. This week’s readings are a commentary on the form of life that results from the Spirit.
For that reason, Paul begins this section with an earnest request not to neglect the grace of God which leads the Christian into a life which is essentially dramatic: the conflict of inner and outer, of present and future, of good and evil, of appearance and reality. Paul describes it in resounding phrases: ‘taken for impostors while we are genuine; obscure yet famous; taken for paupers though we make others rich, for people having nothing though we have everything’.
This dramatic quality comes from the very presence of Spirit who leads us, as he chooses, along paths we do not know. His freedom upturns our customs and ideas. From security, he takes us into puzzlement, to be in the One who is beyond all knowledge, to be with him who is purest Presence.
Year 1, Week 11, Tuesday East Doncaster, 1989
“Here, brothers, is the news of the grace of God which was given in the churches in Macedonia.” 2 Corinthians 8.1
Paul attaches great importance to the collection made among the Gentile Churches for the Mother Church in Jerusalem. which, it seems, was experiencing the effects of the famine known to have occurred under the Emperor Claudius.
The Spirit is essentially the mark of the generosity of God. The magnanimity of Father and Son is communicated and expressed in the proceeding of the Spirit. The Spirit draws on the magnanimity of Father and Son in his drawing of himself from them. The breath makes the Father and Son breathe. The end causes the beginning.
The Spirit is given to the Christian out of magnanimity, given without any search for advantage.
The divine generosity that the Christians have experienced leads them naturally to be generous to others with whatever wealth they have. Thus, the collection of money, which seems so opposite to the values of Spirit, becomes, in this case, an indication of the Spirit’s power.
Year 1, Week 11, Wednesday Glenroy 1977
“You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us;” 2 Corinthians 9.11
God is generous by nature. For that reason, we call God ‘Father’, for he who generates is generous.
God rejoices to be generous. It is his pleasure to communicate; he loves to give. For that reason, he creates and redeems. The very foundation of the world is generosity. He fashions the man from the earth and regenerates with his Spirit. From what is born of time he fashions gods, born of eternity. And his delight is for his children to be with him.
God is generous because he is God and depends on nothing. Humans are ungenerous when they are not of God. Those who feel they have little will experience every giving as loss. But those who know God and share God’s nature cannot but be like God, generous in every circumstance, creating and confirming, encouraging and forgiving, absorbing every aggression of evil and responding with an outpouring of good.
We give the higher gifts: our being and our spirit. Of these, the material gifts are but a sign, for to give money – and nothing more – is to insult the receiver; it is effectively saying that there is no higher quality in them, no divinity. But to give money as a sign – as Jesus gave a sign by restoring health- is to honour the receiver, saying that they are of God, for God. To give is to offer tribute. To give money is a prayer, making the money acceptable. The gift is an acknowledgement that we are of like destiny, of one origin, that we are companions bound by a link greater than money, a link which makes us equal. Giving is the sharing of food at the eternal banquet.
“The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully….He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” 2 Corinthians 9:6, 10.
Paul is not only the preacher to the Gentiles. In the Churches that he founded he is also a fundraiser.
The Church in Jerusalem has fallen upon bad times. The community which began in generosity finds itself in penury, for the easy sharing of goods could last only if Jesus returned soon. With his delay and with the added problem of famine at the time of the Emperor Claudius, the Mother Church is bankrupt.
The collection is not only an act of charity. It is also an act of homage. The daughter Churches must look after their aged Mother. It is a recognition of Jerusalem as the fountainhead of Christianity. If the labourer deserves his wages, the Mother Church can command support. It is also a fulfilment of prophecy for the Old Testament had foretold that the Gentiles would bring their riches to Jerusalem.
The collection is, therefore, not a mere financial transaction. It is a religious act. The same is true of the financial activity of today’s Church. It too can be an act of worship and homage.
Year 1, Week 11, Thursday Glenroy 1977
“I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough.” 2 Corinthians 11.2-4
The Book of Genesis teaches that God, the matchmaker, had brought the Woman to the Man and had betrothed them. In today’s reading, Paul presents himself as the matchmaker. He has betrothed the Corinthian Church to Christ and looks forward to the nuptials when Christ will return in glory.
Satan, however, seduced Eve, Adam sinned, and their sin entered the world. Paul is afraid lest his Corinthians be seduced by false teachers bringing a false Gospel and a false spirit.
Every Christian is a matchmaker. Every Christian is like God, rescuing from sin and restoring the innocence, the original betrothal. All this so that the intended unity may be realised, at the end of time.
Our faith is the betrothal and a return to innocence. Yet our faith also looks forward to the nuptials, the fullness of union at every level.
God was the matchmaker bringing the Woman to the Man; Paul is the matchmaker bringing the Corinthians to union with Christ.
Yet a serpent is at work. The so-called ‘arch-apostles’ have come to divide what God and Paul have put together. It is to a false Christ that they try to prostitute the Corinthians. Or again, if the union in faith leads to the joy of the Holy Spirit, these serpents try to arouse an evil spirit.
The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is reflected in Paul the God-like matchmaker, in Christ the bridegroom of the Corinthians and in the outcome of this union: the Spirit of God. Paul hints at a parody: the father of lies preaching a false Jesus and evoking a false spirit.
Thus, in this text we find, marvellously combined, Paul’s teaching of the Trinity and its parody.
Year 1, Week 11, Friday East Doncaster, 1989
“The servants of Christ? I must be mad to say this, but so am I, and more than they.” 2 Corinthians 11:23
Paul has experienced, from his own friends in Corinth, the accusations that were made against him by his enemies: he is a false Jew, he is a false apostle.
He counters these charges by referring to his background: he is a Hebrew, an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham. His pedigree is impeccable. To the far more telling charge – that is he is a false apostle – he replies by showing that he is has experienced the Easter mystery. True, he has not known the earthly Christ but he has known the paschal Christ.
In today’s reading, Paul explains his experience of the passion of Christ. He even gives an itemised list of the sufferings he has endured for the sake of the Gospel. In tomorrow’s reading he will show how he has known the resurrection of Christ. He is therefore qualified as an apostle, more so than they.
All this has implications. The more we have experienced the paschal mystery, the more we are authorised in the Church. Authority in the Church comes not only from the historical line of the apostles. Authority in the Church comes also from those who experience Christ’s passion and resurrection in their lives.