2 Corinthians 4:3-6 – Transfiguration Sunday â€“ for February 15, 2015
â€œThe gods of this age has blinded the minds of those who donâ€™t have faith so they couldnâ€™t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christâ€™s glory.â€ (II Corinthians 4:4)
Paul likely never read a capital â€œGâ€ Gospel.
The mercurial apostle lived and died before the second and third generation of believers began to circulate the manuscripts of what were eventually named Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.
Paul, who wrote the earliest words of the Christian Testament, knew the Torah. He knew the prophets and their longings, all meticulously inscribed on parchment. Those writings, including the Psalms memorized for worship, were Paulâ€™s reference points for the stories of faith that were written, taught, and proclaimed.
And yet he also had a story. Paulâ€™s small â€œgâ€ gospel tale was the good news, the light in the darkness.
In the reading of Paulâ€™s letters, both the ones scholars are confident he wrote (like the Corinthiansâ€™ correspondence), and the ones likely written by others (like Ephesians), he offered meager glimpses about himself: a devout Jew, a trained Pharisee, his place of birth, and a location when the voice and vision of Christ knocked him senseless and knocked a sense of Christ into him. We also read of his travels across interconnected Roman roads, of his preaching and imprisonments, and always his correspondence. Always! And yet, how much do we know?
Paul, mostly, kept himself hidden. In my prior years of weekly preaching, I never learned Paulâ€™s lesson. How often did I use words â€œIâ€ and â€œme,â€ or phrases like â€œafter my divorceâ€ or â€œMy father told me when I was a kid . . .â€ I cast forth personal anecdotes in public ways so the folks in the pew would see I was just like them! I taught Sunday school lessons weaved with my own wonderings! I revealed my foibles during counseling sessions to put another at ease!
Iâ€™m still not much like Paul. Do a search of my online writingsâ€”there must be a thousand essays floating in the Internetâ€™s digital flotsamâ€”and youâ€™ll see more me, more I, more I remember when . . .
But for Paul, who wrote far less and far, far better than me, out the gospel tumbled.
Good news. Good news. Good news.
Paul wrote nothing of a Bethlehem miracle. If he couldâ€™ve been a time traveler to our modern December, how shocked would the cranky apostle be at our Santas, Black Fridays, and cheery carols?
Paul barely quoted any words or phrases attributed to Jesus. In red-letter New Testaments, a reader will only spot tiny islands of red in the vast ocean of the black print of Paulâ€™s letters. If Jesusâ€™ birth didnâ€™t matter, Jesusâ€™ deathâ€”and resurrectionâ€”made all the difference to Paulâ€™s faith. But he didnâ€™t â€œknowâ€ the earthly Jesus, though he spent time with those who could retell accounts of walking with the Nazarene, and those who heard Maryâ€™s son swap a joke or take a swipe at Herodâ€™s folly. However, the paucity of red references meant that whatever might have been shared by Jesusâ€™ flesh-and-blood followers didnâ€™t have much impact on Paulâ€™s public letters.
But light did.
Challenging the powers of darkness did.
In Jesusâ€™ familiar transfiguration accounts found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus cautioned the witnesses of that light show to remain silent. Tell no one . . . wait for later. There are Gospel reasons for that, but thatâ€™s a different story than one Iâ€™m concerned about.
When Paul, the Paul struck blind and whoâ€™d lived in darkness, the Paul who saw his earlier days of hunting followers of Jesus as a time of darkness, shared about being in Christâ€”being transfigured by Christâ€”there was no waiting for later in his letters.
Let the light shine.
While Paul was parsimonious about himself, he was an effusive purveyor of phrases about this dark, dark, dark world. If Paul, my imagined time traveler, arrived in this century, he might be confused by our affection for the confection of Christmas, but would discern there was still work to do in a world as dark as his own. â€œThe gods of this age has blinded the minds of those who donâ€™t have faith so they couldnâ€™t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christâ€™s glory,â€ Paul wrote two thousand years ago to the believers in Corinth. The small â€œgâ€ gods Paul feared still rule today. As pompous small â€œgâ€ gods, the empires of this earth continue to choose war over peace. (See Syria, Afghanistan, the Ukraine, or . . .) As petulant small â€œgâ€ gods, churches deem a few believers have the â€œrightâ€ faith and all the others are wrong. (See my United Methodist church on those who are gay.) As petty small â€œgâ€ gods, we blame others for our so-called failures and avoid taking any responsibility. (See most lawsuits in the headlines.)
Why isnâ€™t forgiveness rampant? How can mercy be so rare? How can graceâ€”embracing Godâ€™s gift of life in Christâ€”be so free and seem so infrequent?
I confess struggling with Paulâ€™s notions about (and against) women and his divisive (and over-emphasized) views on human sexuality, but the apostle who rarely spoke about himself continues to speak to me. He may or may not have known about the capital â€œGâ€ Gospels, but his small â€œgâ€ gospel about the Christ-like good news boldly shines against the darkness of imperial, institutional, and individual selfishness.