2 Corinthians 3:12-4:212 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 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. 14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 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.
4:1 Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
When reading the scriptures selected for this Sunday, my heart leapt at the last verses of this passage. Since we, as a congregation, are regrouping from a break-in and fire that has put a bit of a cramp in our building availability, not to mention all the additional decision-making that had to go on... a little cheer-leading (in 2 Corinthians, no less!) seemed like a good idea.
It is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, in this place! We do not lose heart! We are not alone! We have forcefully said no to the things that one might hide and embraced truth, hope, and grace that surround us from God in Christ! Huzzah, alleluia, and amen!
I really wanted to leave it at that and just ignore the earlier part of the passage. After all, people who are far better Bible scholars than me say this is the most obscure passage of Paul's seven letters We're not sure what he's saying, why he's saying it, when he said it, and what the Corinthians were doing that prompted him to say it. Doesn't that give me a pass to say, "Yes, this does sound vaguely (not-so-vaguely) anti-Jewish, but we know Paul was a Jew, so it's probably not. Now back to not losing heart..."
Perhaps if we were in a utopian time, a heavenly time, a mountaintop time, wherein all people were perceived and cherished as equals in the eyes of the Lord, if we did actually see in word and deed that all lives matter, if politicians and terror groups didn't trade in the fear of the other to rile up support and hatred... then I could skip over that earlier part.
Since we are not yet to that stage of our sanctification, our being made holy, then it appears that I must say something about the earlier portion of this passage.
Paul understood God to have made a permanent covenant with Abraham and his descendants (both through Isaac and Ishmael) AND a permanent covenant with David and his house. These covenants were rooted in who God was and is, regardless of what the Hebrew people (who became Israel) did. They wander, they doubt, they idolize, but God keeps God's word.
Paul also understood that, in addition, God had made some conditional covenants with the people of Israel. Blessing and safety, in some instances, were contingent upon the people's obedient and faithful behavior. It is not that God wouldn't offer them blessing and safety when they were disobedient, but their poor choices and failure to trust in God and God alone could lead to bad situations- exile and death being some of them.
Part of why Moses veils his face when returning from being in the presence of God is that his fellow Israelites cannot bear to look at the light, but also that they will idolize the glow itself and not its source- the presence of the Almighty. However, veil or no veil, the people begin to take for granted that they are people who have been proximal to the presence of God. Being chosen people becomes their elevated way of seeing themselves without moving forward with the relational aspect of being chosen to convey the presence of God to the rest of the world.
Paul's concern for the Corinthians is that they have begun to take certain things for granted in the same direction. They should not attempt to be the Jews they were not born to be. Neither should they be exceedingly proud of having perceived the good news of Jesus Christ. Favored status is the veil that gets in the way of the world being able to comprehend the way that we are transfigured by life in and through Jesus.
When people, Jews or Christians, trust in the title of being chosen, baptized, members, or disciples, but forget the way those things are actual spiritual AND tangible ways of being that transfigure them personally and the world around them... the veil of the title (chosen, baptized, etc) dims the light of love that shines from faces, in words, and in actions.
Yesterday, I picked up my daughter and was hugging her and kissing her cheek. Swinging her around as she giggled, I looked over to see if my son was watching. I was planning to go to do the same thing to him if he was. The reason was actually because I did not want him to think that my daughter is my favorite. I love them both. I might be more annoyed with one or the other from time to time, but I love them both- deeply, whole-heartedly, without reservation.
In the moment of looking between my daughter and my son and wanting them to know that I did not have favorites, I suddenly grasped the thing that Paul wants to communicate, but cannot. God does not have partiality between God's children. God's unconditional love is deep, whole hearted, and without reservation. It is when we believe that we are the favorites- because of denomination or theological awareness or doctrine or habit- we draw a veil over the glory that is the relationship and our hearts harden. There is freedom in realizing that Christ was not sent to tell Jews they were no longer God's favorite, but instead to the whole world, the whole cosmos, to explain that God does not have favorites.
On Wednesday, with the imposition of ashes, we will enter the season of Lent. This is typically a time of serious contemplation, of reflection on spiritual discipline, on preparing for baptism or joining a congregation, on metaphysical improvements in mind and soul. In Lent, we put away the alleluias and focus our minds on the cross and what it means for our faith.
I can't undo Lent, but I can offer an addendum or correction for this year. A church that had just had a fire and break-in doesn't need to short on the alleluias. A church that is being looked to as a community gathering space does not need to pull in for self-examination. A church that has received over five thousand dollars in donations toward rebuilding does not need to skimp on the alleluias.
From this mountain of transfiguration, let us remove our veils... veils of fear, veils of frustration, veils of self-doubt, veils of trust in things that are not God... personally and as a congregation, let us unveil ourselves as people are who transfigured and transformed, day by day, not by what we believe, but by the One who believes in us.
It is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, in this place! We do not lose heart! We are not alone! We forcefully say no to the things that one might hide and embrace truth, hope, and grace that surround us from God in Christ! Huzzah, alleluia, and amen!