Daily Reflection
June 17th, 2005

Robert P. Heaney

John A. Creighton University Chair
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2 Corinthians 11:18, 21-30
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Matthew 6:19-23

We academics all have something called a “curriculum vitae” – a form of resume listing our training, our faculty and administrative appointments, the papers we have written, the grants we have successfully competed for, the honors and prizes we have received . . . We use a CV to support job searches or requests for promotion, or just as a way to keep score.

N.T. Wright, the great New Testament scholar, has suggested that when we next revise our CV, we produce an inverse version instead – grants I failed to get, articles or stories I never could get published, jobs I didn’t get, prizes I was put up for but didn’t win, etc. It might help us stay grounded in reality. Wright says that that is what Paul was doing in this section of 2 Corinthians – not however as an exercise in humility, but as a means to rescue his Corinthian converts from flying off on yet another of their wild tangents.

Status meant a lot in the first century Mediterranean world, and the Corinthian Christians didn’t have much. As Paul himself reminded them elsewhere, “not many of you are high born or wealthy or wise . . .” To make matters worse, they belonged to a strange sect that worshipped an executed criminal. Paul writes this section of the letter because, while he was in prison in Ephesus, he heard that the Corinthian community had been visited by other Christian evangelists, who had more polish, eloquence, and class than did he, Paul. They seemed to offer the Corinthians the prospect of greater respectability and status.

Paul knows that, as a Christian, you cannot stray far from the shadow of the cross. He does not keep score the way the Corinthians were tempted to do. To some, the crucifixion was perhaps better set aside – at most, an unfortunate past event, not a current reality. But Paul claims preeminence as a minister of the Gospel precisely because of his defeats, punishments, and tribulations. This inverse CV leads him to the tremendous insight, which we will read in tomorrow’s Scriptures, that “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul abases himself before his Corinthians, not to scold or ridicule them, but to help them understand what really matters.

Two millennia later, there are several responses we might want to consider. One is an admiration for Paul, both for his pastoral skill and for his manifest willingness to do absolutely anything to support the spiritual welfare of his children in Christ. Second we may want to explore how important status is for us and what compromises with Christian values we have already made and might be prepared to make to sustain the esteem of those around us. Perhaps most important, we, like Paul, have our own failures and defeats, and, instead of licking our wounds we can, also like Paul, become wounded healers, focusing all of our energies on the welfare of our brothers and sisters – strong for them precisely because of our own weakness – strong because it is the strength of Christ.

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