Wednesday, May 30, 2018
In 2 Corinthians, Paul faces a familiar challenge: how do I convince struggling Christians that the ways of the world--wealth, security, pleasure--are worth nothing when compared with the way of God when the way of God often leads to struggle, rejection, and death? Good question. Twenty-first century preachers have a hard enough time convincing families to give up a relaxing morning at home after a weekend of travel soccer. Maybe torture and death are more alluring than a wafer and sip of cheap port wine, but that's another post. In Sunday's reading from 2 Corinthians, we see part of Paul's argument, but we miss an important line.
Paul speaks of the treasure that he and other Christians have been given as a treasure hidden in a clay jar. The glory of God himself has shone in their hearts. "The knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" is what they have been given. It is a treasure of incomparable value. But where is it? How can it be seen? This treasure, Paul tells them, speaking of the body, is contained in clay jars. You can't look at Paul on the surface and see it. You have to look deep within. Paul and his companions "are afflicted in every way." Their life is pure struggle. But, in the midst of that struggle, one can see a hope that shines beneath the surface: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."
But I think that message gets clearer when we add to the reading the two verses immediately before this passage begins: "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake..." (2 Cor. 4:3-6). Those who are perishing--not being saved--cannot see the treasure of the gospel because it is hidden. And why can they not see it? Why is it hidden? Because the god of this world--greed, lust, gluttony, self-centered pursuit--has blinded their minds. If we want to see that treasure hidden in clay jars, hidden beneath the suffering that Christians are enduring, we must get beyond the devil's shiny fishing lure of this life and find the real value within.
That is the way of Jesus. The treasure in heaven we are promised is not material wealth. The hope we are given is not riches beyond measure. We will not be swimming in rooms filled with gold coins the way that Scrooge McDuck does, defying both physics and economics in a single dive. Following Jesus will not make you safe, secure, rich, and happy in this life. Following Jesus will kill you. And death with Jesus will lead to life in God. And that is a true and lasting treasure.