Monday, 23 September 2013

2 Corinthians: Pummelling plural peacocks with one pebble...

I always find it satisfying when I am able to kill two birds with one stone.  It is especially satisfying when one wasn't trying to do so in the first place.  Well, this has just happened to me.

I am currently working on a paper for a course I took this summer (on 2 Corinthians).  The subject of the paper is that the Apostle Paul views his own sufferings and afflictions as part of his calling and ministry as an apostle; that just as Paul proclaims the gospel of a Messiah who died in weakness, so too the message bearer is called to weakness and suffering also.  Not quite a medium-is-the-message thing, but a medium-fits-the-message and thereby advances it.  And just as Christ was raised from the dead in power, vindicated by the Father and triumphant now through the continuing work of the Spirit, so too when Paul ministers in weakness, the gospel goes forth with power.  As Paul says, "when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12:10).

Whilst working on my paper, I am reading N.T. Wright's book, How God Became King, as a sort of bedtime, wind-down-and-think-of-something-else-for-a-while book.  While I find his repeated reminders of how the church has forgotten this or that element of the biblical story tedious, this really is a good book (and some of his criticism very much is warranted).  However, Sunday night while reading, I came across a wonderful section in chapter 9 where Wright actually discusses the point I am arguing for in my paper.  Here's a sample:

“that the early Christians understood their vocation as Jesus’ followers to include, as a central and load-bearing element, their own suffering, misunderstanding, and likely death.  It isn’t just that, as followers of a misunderstood Messiah, they themselves would naturally expect misunderstanding and persecution, though that is certainly part of it.  It is, rather...that the suffering of Jesus’s followers is actually, like Jesus’s own suffering, not just an inevitable accompaniment to the accomplishing of the divine purpose, but actually itself part of the means by which that purpose is to be fulfilled.  When Mark’s Jesus tells his followers to take up their own cross and follow him, we see a line straight through the New Testament to the theme of suffering and martyrdom that we find in Paul, 1 Peter, and Revelation...”

Wright then sights Mark 8:34-9:1; 1 Thess. 3:2-4; Phil. 3:8-11; 2 Cor. 4:7-12; Col. 1:24; 1 Pet. 1:6-7; 1 Pet. 4:12-13; and Rev. 12:10-11.  To which I would add at least:  Rom. 8:12-17; Rom. 12:14; 1 Cor. 2:1-5; 1 Cor. 4:9-13; 2 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 6:3-10; 2 Cor. 11:16-32; 2 Cor. 12:9-10; 2 Cor. 13:3-4; Gal. 3:1; Gal. 6:17; Phil. 1:12-14, 29-30; Phil. 2:17; 2 Thess. 1:4-5; 2 Tim. 3:12.  Then he continues:

“Here, the suffering and death of Jesus’s people is not simply the dark path they must tread because of the world’s continuing hostility toward Jesus and his message.  It somehow has the more positive effect of carrying forward the redemptive effect of Jesus’s own death, not by adding to it, but by sharing in it.  When we speak of the 'finished work of the Messiah,' as the evangelists intend for us (as far as they were concerned, the story of Jesus was the unique turning point of all history), we are not ruling out, but rather laying the groundwork for, a missiology of kingdom and cross.  Jesus has constituted his followers as those who share his work of kingdom inauguration; that is the point of his sending out of the Twelve, and then others again, even during his lifetime and far more so after his death and resurrection.  But if they are to bring [Jesus’s] kingdom in his way, they will be people who share his suffering."
 Then, summing up:
"Reading the gospels as the launching of God's renewed people, then, is not merely a historical note:  'This was where and how our story began.'  It declares too:  'This is the sort of people we are:  suffering kingdom-bringers, suffering kingdom-sharers."
                                                                                                    (p. 198-202)
What a happy occurrence when one is able to pummel plural peacocks with one pebble.  Mind you, Wright's book didn't have the effect I was reading it for...which was to get me thinking about something other than the topic of my paper.  In stead, I got out the pencil and started in on margin notes.

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