From the Pastor
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
I believe it when I see it.
Image is everything.
You get what you see.
I can’t believe what I am seeing.
A picture can say more than a thousand words.
We want to see results.
There is very much a connection between the things we see and the things we accept as a fact or believe to be true. Rarely would someone buy a used car on the phone, just because the current owner says it’s a great car. The buyer would go out and have a look at it and then decide. Before we put our trust in anything we want to see some evidence that it is worth it. And rightly so. There are enough hoaxes and scams out there.
Paul, in his letter to the congregation in Corinth, has the opposite approach: We walk by faith, not by sight – at least for now. And we are to regard others not from a human point of view, because everyone in Christ is a new creation. The old does not apply any longer.
This is again one of these things that are asked of us as people of faith that is the opposite of what we are used to practice. Of course we look at others from a human point of view, because we are human. And of course we see all these things that influence what we think about others: we see age, we see gender, we see race, we see affluence, we see style, we see ethnicity. I think there is a whole checklist that runs through our brains when we see someone for the first time, whether we are aware of it or not. And even if we don’t judge someone (good or bad) for his or her appearance and what it projects, we certainly have an impression, with which we go initially.
When I go to road races I see runners of all kinds. Some look like pros in the latest, very expensive outfits. Others run in old, worn clothes that might actually be from an era when people still exercised in cotton T-shirts. Bottom line is neither outfit tells what kind of runners they are. Walking by sight can be deceiving. When it comes to runners our assumptions don’t matter.
But assumptions matter when they turn into stereotypes and prejudices, which hurt and endanger people. When we think that we know everything about someone, just because this person fits into one of our categories, we see others from our human point. We then need to think again.
Walking by sight has its place when we buy a car, for example, but it has its pitfalls when we do this with people. Walking by faith, accepting that others are children of God just as we are, means to make it a strong effort to first of all acknowledge that our view is limited and then work to let go of our human point of view. So next time when encounter someone and think we know everything, we should just stop and think that this is a child of God in the first place, loved very much.
The discrepancy between a human point of view and God’s new creation is painfully clear when immigrant children are taken away from their parents at the border in order to put pressure on the parents. From a human point of view this might be a promising strategy. But seen from a perspective of faith it is never reconcilable with the commandment to love our neighbor. These children and their parents are our neighbors and children of God, very much loved. Intentionally inflicting pain and lasting trauma on them has no place in a Christian point of view.
Paul reminds us that human standards of judgment count for nothing in God’s eyes. He knew what he talked about, because in his time he was not exactly a good looking representative of the glory of God. Given that he traveled a lot, was beaten up and imprisoned frequently he probably had a rather worn appearance. In a culture that saw a scarred, beaten up and weakened body as signs of shame and dishonor he had a tough time to defend his legitimacy as an apostle. But he argued that his physical appearance actually authenticated his ministry, because it was a visible sign of his participation in Christ’s suffering.
As strange as Paul’s message probably was for his contemporaries, some must have come around and spread the word. Some must have understood that the breaking in of the new age into the old has created a new way of seeing. To see from the perspective of new creation is to see neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free – but to see one’s identity in Christ, as Paul put it in the letter to the Galatians. Early Christians learned this lesson and so can we.
In Christ we are a new creation. We are reconciled to God and entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation as agents of God’s reconciling love for the world and all of his children. Amen.