July 27, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Second half of Second Letter to the Corinthians

John F. FinkThe biblical readings in the Office of Readings next week are Chapters 7-13 in St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. I wrote about the first six chapters last week.

In Chapter 7, the crisis that Paul was so concerned about in the earlier chapters is resolved with the arrival of Titus. He had the good news “of your yearning, your lament, your zeal for me” (2 Cor 7:7).

An earlier letter had caused sadness among the Corinthians, but Paul was glad that “you were saddened into repentance” (2 Cor 7:9). But now all seems to have been restored.

If everything is OK, it must be time to ask for money. (Only joking.) Chapters 8 and 9, which might have been two separate letters, are masterpieces in reflecting on stewardship. Paul is taking up a collection among all of his communities to help the Church in Jerusalem, which has suffered a famine.

This collection was important, not only to relieve human suffering, but because it was an example of the Gentile Christians in Corinth helping the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Paul would see the Jewish Christians’ acceptance of the Gentiles’ offering as evidence of their willingness to accept the Gentiles.

The rest of the letter, Chapters 10-13, is Paul’s defense of his ministry. This makes this letter the most personal of all of his letters, and the one through which we learn the most about his character.

Why did he feel the need to defend his ministry? There were those in Corinth who thought that he was not very impressive in person, nor charismatic or eloquent. He apparently wrote better than he spoke. They thought that the reason he had put off a visit to them was because his presence was disappointing.

Some also obviously complained that Paul hadn’t used his authority to accept support for his ministry from the community, making him unlike what Paul calls the “superapostles.” These men obviously considered themselves superior to Paul, but Paul called them “false Apostles, deceitful workers, who masquerade as Apostles of Christ” (2 Cor 11:13).

Because of this opposition, Paul decided that he was forced to boast of himself. He says, “I think that I am not in any way inferior to these ‘superapostles.’ Even if I am untrained in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; in every way we have made this plain to you in all things” (2 Cor 11:5-6).

He continued by describing some of the hardships he had to endure—his imprisonments, beatings with rods, scourgings, stoning and all the dangers associated with traveling in that era.

We learn about a vision that he had when he was caught up to heaven “and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter” (2 Cor 12:4). To keep him from becoming elated, God gave him a thorn in the flesh. I invite you to read the footnotes about this paragraph in your Bible.

Paul concludes the letter by telling the Corinthians that he plans to visit them again—the third time—and he would “not be lenient, since you are looking for proof of Christ speaking in me” (2 Cor 13:2-3). †

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