Sundays after Pentecost Proper 6  Year B
This statement makes us think so easily about the way Photoshop means that we can now no longer trust that a photo we are looking at is “real”. Or maybe we think of the way computer-generated-imagery in movies creates fantastic scenarios.
But I think it is also a hint for us of what Paul is getting at in the selection we have read today from 2 Corinthians 5.
The first little section of what we read is very familiar to me in the context of funerals. We take some comfort from the idea that those we love who have died are now “at home with the Lord”. But I think this section is about something far more important.
Paul is really getting us to think about the fact that while we are all bound to the physical reality of life, we know that there is a dimension of being that goes beyond that – our life in God. A few years ago when the atheists were raging about religion as something that denied scientific and factual realities, I remember engaging with some on social media. How does science quantify or measure something we call LOVE? They had answers for it, but they did not satisfy me. We all know that there is a dimension to being human that goes beyond the scientific realm of chemistry and physics.
“Our life is a matter of faith, not of sight” which is an idea Paul explores in the few verses we left out of our selection and then picks up again at the end. I think this is what I was referring to last week about people being able to tell that we were Christians, even without us saying anything. And Paul is pointing us to this idea that it is not the outward, physical stuff that really matters. When you look on the inside, when you consider the spiritual dimension of things in a person’s life – then you see what truly is.
Now we skip a few verses to get to the next section, and I wonder what sense you made of it when it was read aloud to us. The imagery can take into several places. Let me read to you a paragraph in a commentary I used this week.
“That Christ’s death was ‘for all’ means somehow that believers are bound up in that death. For Paul, Christians do not watch the cross as if it were a scene ‘out there’ or ‘back there’ somewhere, displayed for them now so that they can understand the historical ramifications of this event. Nor is the cross connected with believers only by virtue of some influence it has with God, so that the cross persuades God to forgive human sin. The death of Christ on the cross involves believers directly, in that they die in it and now have lives that are not their own, but belong to Christ.”
It is probably fair to say that I am still thinking through the ramifications of that statement. There are so many layers within it. But one which I think makes sense to me is the ways in which we are called to “die with Christ”. We participate in his death symbolically in our baptism. But we are also called by him to die to self and live for Christ – Paul in his letter to the Galatians. And of course it is true that we all die – as Christ died.
This dying has some very important implications for the life we now live. It is through this that we are able to detach ourselves from the importance of our physical life – and what we see of the physical life of others – and be more concerned with our new life in God.
Which leads us nicely to the last two verses in our selection: “No longer, then, do we judge anyone by human standards. Even if at one time we judged Christ according to human standards, we no longer do so. Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.”
Paul is saying that we should take our eyes off all those worldly, human standards by which we judge a person – for good or ill. And his reason for saying this is his belief that when we are joined to Christ something changes so dramatically that it is as if we have died. Our Good News Bible says we become a new being. Your more familiar texts will say “there is a new creation” or “creature”. To emphasise how comprehensive this change is Pauls adds – “the old is gone, the new has come.”
This changes everything about how we see ourselves, but perhaps more importantly how we see each other.
One of the things I have been musing about during the week is the capacity of the emphasis or not that we give a written word when we speak can completely change the meaning of a sentence.
Think of Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus. Pilate asks Jesus “Are you the King of the Jews?” When you say those words flatly, it sounds a bit like a lawyer’s interrogation in a court. A simple question. Now listen to my voice and watch me. “Are YOU the King of the Jews?” Sub-text – “Look at you man. You’re a powerless, peasant carpenter and you expect me to believe you are a king.” Now that changes the meaning completely.
So with this last sentence of our selection. If we read it flatly it could simply be expressing a fact that we become new persons in Christ, but if I add an emphasis on a word you might not expect, I can give it a new dimensions. “ANYONE who is joined to Christ is a new being.” Now it makes sense a different way – it becomes an emphatic declaration to us that it’s not just the good people who become new persons. Absolutely anyone can be transformed. No-one is beyond hope. No-one is irremediable. And knowing this should change the way we relate to each other. It should lower those barriers of judgementalism that so easily creep into our interactions with each other.
Knowing this we are always full of courage, for we know that in Christ the old has passed away and the new has come.