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A Priestly Word — 6 Jul 18

A Priestly Word

Our course reading of II Corinthians ends on Sunday (12:2-10) in a section of the Epistle where St Paul defends his ministry with the revelation that he has had an ecstatic experience of God and of things heavenly.

He does not wish to boast about his experience, and so he refers to himself in the third person: “I know a person in Christ” (12:2) and “[o]n behalf of such a one I will boast” (12:5). In other words, St Paul boasts not about himself but the experience he has had.

The experience takes him “up to the third heaven” (12:2), to “Paradise” where he “heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat” (12:4). Ancient cosmologies told of a multilayered universe. Seven was a popular number for the heavens, but so was three. In the “Testament of Levi,” part of Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, God lives in the third heaven. Without specifying any particular structure of the universe, Paul claims a spiritual journey to God’s dwelling place where secrets (“the exceptional character of the revelations” [12:7]) were revealed to him.

And, to keep him humble (“to keep me from being too elated” [12:7]), “a thorn was given me in the flesh” (12:7). The exact nature of the “thorn” is not known. It may be a sickness, or physical disability, or temptation, or hindrance associated with his apostolic ministry. It even may be an opponent who was persistent or obnoxious.

We learn that Paul appealed to the Lord to be relieved of the “thorn,” and, instead of removing it, the Lord reveals to Paul that his “grace is sufficient for you,” (!2:9). Paul possesses his soul in patience to endure “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (12:10), because “whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10).

Just as Christ is King even when nailed to the Cross, St Paul is strong even when he faces adversity. He is strongest when he appears to be weakest.

The next course reading is of the Epistle to the Ephesians.

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Quotation — 4 Jul 18
Pentecost 6, 2018 — 1 Jul 18

Pentecost 6, 2018

RCL Year B Proper 8
Wisdom 1:13-15 and 2:23-24, Psalm 30, II Corinthians 8:7-15, Saint Mark 5:21-43

Living in Alexandria about one hundred years before Jesus and writing in Greek, the author of Wisdom seems to be quoting or referring to the Prophet Ezekiel who proclaimed, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.”[1]

We should be well aware of God’s preference for life, and we should live accordingly. We are free to discover, to adapt as may be necessary, and to choose to follow God in everything we do. This is the example Jesus has given us in his ministry and in his death and resurrection.

Moreover, the example is given to us in the Gospel by Jairus and the woman whom Jesus unknowingly cures. They exemplify life lived according to Jesus’ example.

Jairus leads the synagogue, and I like to think he knows well God’s preference for life. He implores Jesus, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”[2] The faith that Jairus has that Jesus indeed can make his daughter well, the faith that God indeed prefers life, is about to be tested twice. First, that his daughter might be cured, and second, once his daughter has died, that she might be restored to life. Jairus’ faith passes both of these tests. He truly believes that God, that Jesus, prefers life.

The crowd has a different reaction. When Jesus says that the child “is not dead but sleeping,”[3] they laugh at Jesus.

That difference between Jairus and the crowd is the difference of life itself. The crowd is not quite sure where God and Jesus stand on this question. But Jairus knows and has faith. He has an exemplary faith.

When the woman Jesus unknowingly cures explains herself, Jesus tells her, “your faith has made you well.”[4] Jesus could well have said to Jairus, “your faith has brought your daughter back to life.”

We do ourselves a favor and a service when we find it within us to let God be God. The Scriptures and Jesus witness repeatedly who God is and what God prefers. And certainly the best thing we can offer to God in thanksgiving for everything he is is our will poised to do his will. Some conversations can develop in only one direction, and so it is in our conversation with God. We grow, we develop, and we mature when we are ready to do his will in every circumstance we know.

[1] Ezekiel 18:32.

[2] Saint Mark 5:24.

[3] Saint Mark 5:40.

[4] Saint Mark 5:34.

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