The Light Of The gospel

2 Corinthians 4:3-6 – Transfiguration Sunday – for February 15, 2015

“The gods of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t have faith so they couldn’t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory.” (II Corinthians 4:4)

Rembrandt’s “Saint Paul at his Writing Desk.”
Rembrandt’s “Saint Paul at his Writing Desk.”

Paul likely never read a capital “G” 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 Paul’s reference points for the stories of faith that were written, taught, and proclaimed.

And yet he also had a story. Paul’s small “g” gospel tale was the good news, the light in the darkness.

In the reading of Paul’s letters, both the ones scholars are confident he wrote (like the Corinthians’ 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 Paul’s lesson. How often did I use words “I” and “me,” or phrases like “after my divorce” or “My father told me when I was a kid . . .” 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!

I’m still not much like Paul. Do a search of my online writings—there must be a thousand essays floating in the Internet’s digital flotsam—and you’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 could’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 Paul’s letters. If Jesus’ birth didn’t matter, Jesus’ death—and resurrection—made all the difference to Paul’s faith. But he didn’t “know” the earthly Jesus, though he spent time with those who could retell accounts of walking with the Nazarene, and those who heard Mary’s son swap a joke or take a swipe at Herod’s folly. However, the paucity of red references meant that whatever might have been shared by Jesus’ flesh-and-blood followers didn’t have much impact on Paul’s public letters.

But light did.

Transfiguration did.

Challenging the powers of darkness did.

In Jesus’ 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 that’s a different story than one I’m concerned about.

When Paul, the Paul struck blind and who’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 Christ—being transfigured by Christ—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. “The gods of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t have faith so they couldn’t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory,” Paul wrote two thousand years ago to the believers in Corinth. The small “g” gods Paul feared still rule today. As pompous small “g” gods, the empires of this earth continue to choose war over peace. (See Syria, Afghanistan, the Ukraine, or . . .) As petulant small “g” gods, churches deem a few believers have the “right” faith and all the others are wrong. (See my United Methodist church on those who are gay.) As petty small “g” gods, we blame others for our so-called failures and avoid taking any responsibility. (See most lawsuits in the headlines.)

Why isn’t forgiveness rampant? How can mercy be so rare? How can grace—embracing God’s gift of life in Christ—be so free and seem so infrequent?

I confess struggling with Paul’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 “G” Gospels, but his small “g” gospel about the Christ-like good news boldly shines against the darkness of imperial, institutional, and individual selfishness.

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  1. Dear Larry, thank you for your reflections. I think you have rehabilitated Paul for me and helped me to listen again and dialogue. You have such a gift. Thanks for sharing.

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