(Photo of caution sign courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, August 19, 2012)
Daily Office readings for Sunday, August 19, 2012:
Psalm 118 (Morning)
Psalm 145 (Evening)
2 Corinthians 13:1-11
2 Corinthians 13:1-11:
This is the third time I am coming to you. “Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” I warned those who sinned previously and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again, I will not be lenient— since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful in you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed.
But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong. This is what we pray for, that you may become perfect. So I write these things while I am away from you, so that when I come, I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Our Epistle today evokes remembrances of those times in our lives where we have been in the un-enviable position of knowing in our heart of hearts that we made a decision or chose a path of action that ultimately was the right thing, but all external evidence at the time we did it screamed that we had failed. It's a reading that is flanked by two other readings supportive to it--we are reminded in the story of Samson that all of us are vulnerable to other people in certain ways or to certain people, and our Gospel story today of the woman with hemorrhages calls to mind those feelings of uncleanliness over things to which we were powerless.
Also, on a personal note, as the mysterious powers of the Daily Office Lectionary often do, this particular scripture came up on a day that for me, is the anniversary of a day some years ago that began my own personal dark walk through a situation where, in retrospect, I had done the right thing but it sure didn't seem like it at the time. In fact, for a long time, the verdict would have been that I was the transgressor.
All of us have situations that show up in our lives where even those close to us think we're making a mistake, or popular opinion is that we are "the bad guy," or just where we happen to be carries preconceived notions. The communities of the early church, Corinth included, were probably looked upon with a lot of preconceived notions and there's no doubt rumors circulated about them that were less than flattering. In a way, it's no different than when people hear the word "Christian" and think that community believes things that may or may not be applicable ("doesn't believe in dinosaurs," "ignorant," "hates GLBT people," etc.) As individuals, words carry preconceived messages, too. In things like divorces, the firing of employees, child custody suits, arrests, and charges, people are going to believe what they choose to believe. The only truths that last in those stories are the truths that are borne out over time--and of course, the problem is we all have to live long enough for those to surface. It's why in all communities with a public face, the church included, that infighting and dissension become magnified in the public eye. Human nature is that people are quick to tear down anything that has been raised up for any reason.
Paul's exhortation to the people of the church of Corinth is to do things for a greater truth--the truth of the Good News in Christ. He asks them to do something that is a hallmark of Twelve Step Programs--to look to themselves first, and test themselves first as to their motives and actions--to always be open to self-questioning and the possibility that what, at the moment, feels like "failure" may not ultimately be failure, but instead, growth.
When you look back at the stories in your own life, where are the places that felt like "failure" but turned out instead to be growth spurts? Where are the places that felt like despair that turned out to be seeds of a bigger hope?