Monday, April 14, 2014

The 2014-2015 Horizon's Bible Study "Reconciling Paul" - a continuing review # 4

This is Holy Week and I am attempting to write my review of lesson 4 of the Presbyterian Women’ Bible study, Reconciling Paul with the week’s somberness and final celebration as my focus.  

In lesson 4, "Carrying in Our Bodies Jesus' Acts of Healing, Reconciliation, and Love," the text, 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10 carries the events of Holy Week, the suffering and resurrection of Jesus Christ, into the lives of individual believers as well as the whole church. While Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, the author of the lesson, focuses on that part of the text which speaks of Christ’s suffering and death there is no mention of resurrection.  One is left with advocacy for the oppressed which is good but not the final blessed outcome of the gospel.

As Hinson-Hasty shows Paul speaks of carrying about in his body the death of Jesus.  However, in order to do justice to that statement the text surrounding it is needed. This isn't just about death; it is about resurrection, not an abstract idea of eternality but real bodily resurrection.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you. (4:7-18)

Jesus’ life given to the believer is real life based on the fact that a bodily resurrected Jesus sees and guides the Christian through the Holy Spirit and makes himself known in the midst of trials. And as Colin Kruse points out in his Tyndale commentary on 2 Corinthians the being delivered over to death and carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus is not “a mystical” statement, but a reality of the suffering of Paul and his companions.  Nor is the life of the resurrected Jesus mystical, but is truly “manifested in his body.” Kruse writes:

Thus the one who proclaims the crucified and risen Lord finds that what is proclaimed in his message is also exemplified in his life. On one hand he is daily subject to forces which lead to death, but on the other hand he is continually upheld, caused to triumph, and made to be more than a conqueror by the experience of the risen life of Jesus in his mortal body (cf. Rom. 8:35-39; 2 Cor. 1:8-10; 2:14; Phil. 3:10; 4:1213).

Hinson-Hasty focuses the idea of God’s power in bodies to marginalized bodies and how God’s power overcame the marginalization.  She writes:

Understanding the body in this context [the way some bodies were marginalized in ancient Rome and its many conquered lands] punctuates the radicalness of Paul’s use of the metaphor “treasures in clay jars.” When Paul claims that God is made manifest in a weak, earthenware vessel, he directly challenges the dominant hierarchical scale upon which people in his culture judged and valued different bodies.

So her focus is on such groups as women and slaves but this misses the point.  Paul isn’t here pointing to only the oppressed; he is referring to all bodies. Human bodies (which include the soul) are like earthen vessels. We are all prone to crack and break; we are all sinners, rich and powerful, poor and marginalized. And it is those who have Christ who have the treasure of God found in Jesus Christ. His glory shines through the broken vessels spreading to others with the life that belongs to God.

And this is not possible without the resurrection a Christian reality that Hinson-Hasty never addresses in this study. There are hints but one is reminded of a sixties song that speaks of Jesus but never quite passes by his death.
Hinson-Hasty writes:

For Paul, God’s power is best exemplified in the crucified body of the Jewish Jesus. The broken Jesus still remained a treasure and overcame defeat, even in the death dealt to him by the most powerful empire of his time. By using the metaphor of “treasure in clay jars” to describe the body of the community, Paul associates the power of the community of faith in acts that make the strong weak and the weak strong.

Speaking of Gnosticism, Hinson-Hasty wants to emphasis that Paul is not “saying that we can or even should try to escape from our bodies.” This is true but it misses the promise of God of our own bodily resurrection when we shall be like our Lord.  But here the author attempts to clarify the future and make way for better things—and yet she leaves the reader without hope:

Paul says that the realization of God’s redemptive future will be embodied, realized in fragile bodies, even if in an imperfect way.

The community of believers gathered at Corinth had realized and embodied some of Jesus’ teachings and yet there were more to be realized. Both Paul and the Corinthian church were living within the boundaries established by Greco-Roman culture, but they were growing beyond the limitations that their culture imposed on them.

Hinson-Hasty’s view of the Christian’s future is entirely materialistic and progressive. While it contains the promise of good deeds which she will later connect to those Christians who rightly stood for equality in South Africa, it nevertheless leaves death and sin unconquered.
Jesus Christ, lived, died and rose again. The Christian carries that death in his body too often suffering as Christ suffered. But the Christian also carries the life of Christ infusing God’s world with the love of Jesus.
Picture by Stephen Larson

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