Lectionary Commentaries for June 17, 2018
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 4:26-34

Matt Skinner

Mark contains few parables, but the ones that are there really count.

This passage concludes an extended string of them, beginning in Mark 3:23. Taken together, this collection of parables creates the context for experiencing Jesus’ continuing ministry as the inaugurator of the elusive yet inevitable reign (traditionally, “kingdom”) of God. In the parables Jesus divulges enough to keep us from throwing up our hands in dismay later in Mark each time we encounter a disciple’s blunder or a command to keep Jesus’ identity secret.

Parables are comparisons, meant to cast two things alongside one another to provide analogy, contrast, or reflection — usually a reflection similar to the distortions that appear in a funhouse mirror. Jesus’ parables, whether they are brief aphorisms or short narratives, have a way of reordering conventional assumptions and values. They don’t explain how one is supposed to recognize the reign of God, but they make it clear that we will need to adopt or receive new ways of perceiving.

Mark introduces the two parables in Mark 4:26-32 with explicit mention of “the kingdom of God.” The parables illuminate — or perhaps obfuscate (see 4:11-12) — aspects of God’s reign. In both stories, Jesus speaks about seeds (a common metaphor for formation and education in ancient contexts) to indicate that God’s new order will take root and eventually come to fruition, whether people desire it or not.

The seed growing on its own (Mark 4:26-29)

No other Gospel contains this parable. Probably because it’s boring. Its plot has all the suspenseful drama of an ordinary elementary-school life sciences textbook. There are no surprises. Everything proceeds according to plan. Jesus simply speaks about seeds and what they are supposed to do. They grow and produce. Moreover, they grow and produce without your help or your intricate knowledge of germination or photosynthesis or palea, thank you very much.

In other words, the reign of God will take root — whether in the world, in imperial society, or in someone’s heart, Jesus does not specify. It will grow gradually and automatically (the New Revised Standard Version renders automate in Mark 4:26 as what the earth does “on its own”). It will grow perhaps so subtly that you won’t even notice, until at last it produces its intended fruit.

The inevitability and mystery of the seed’s maturation into a plant that eventually is harvested (an allusion to judgment, characterized as a sudden event by the word euthus in Mark 4:29) provide a vital counterpoint to the more famous parable that dominates Mark 4, a parable about sowing seeds in various soils. In that parable, so many seeds fail to bear fruit that one might question God’s commitment to seeing the reign of God blossom. Likewise, as the disciples stumble throughout Mark, one might worry that the wrong people have been entrusted with access to divine knowledge (see Mark 4:11, 33-34). But this simple parable offers a counterbalance and reassurance in the face of such concerns: it is the nature of God’s reign to grow and to manifest itself. That’s what it does. As a lamp belongs on a lampstand (Mark 4:21-22), God’s reign, like a seed, must grow, even if untended and even if its gradual expansion is nearly impossible to detect.

The mighty mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32)

Compared to the previous parable’s matter-of-factness, the story of the mustard seed reads like a dense novella. At first glance, it reaffirms things people have already learned about God’s reign: something very small will eventually morph into something much larger; also, something that appears obscure and insignificant will turn into something public and grand. Yet there is more: the reign of God won’t just grow for the sake of looking pretty, but creatures will find that it provides them shelter and security.

Those are all important points, but they cannot capture the real energy in this parable. The parable’s punch comes in at least two funny things Jesus says.

First, God’s reign isn’t like any ordinary seed. In some ways it resembles a mustard seed. This is not the kind of crop most people would sow. Where Jesus lived, mustard was prolific like a common and sturdy weed. It could pop up almost anywhere and start multiplying. Some of Jesus’ listeners must have groaned or chuckled. Imagine him speaking today of thistles or ground-ivy. But bigger. And more useful, since mustard has a range of medicinal qualities. In any case, the reign of God apparently isn’t much of a cash crop. Yet it grows. It is not easily eradicated. Good luck keeping it out of your well manicured garden or your farmland. Better be careful what you pray for when you say, “Your kingdom come…”

Second, Jesus describes the fully grown mustard plant (probably brassica negra in Galilee) as “the greatest of all shrubs.”1 At this point, some of his auditors probably snorted and blew milk out of their noses. Google brassica negra and judge for yourself. It can grow dense, but it is hardly magnificent. Jesus must be grinning as he speaks. He is not aiming to impart insights about the relative worth of shrubberies but to shock people into a new way of perceiving greatness.

The humor and the absurdity are part of the main point. Jesus could have likened God’s reign to the cedars of Lebanon if he wanted to describe an in-breaking state of affairs that would cause people to drop everything and be impressed (see Ezekiel 17:22-24; see also Ezekiel 31:3-9; Daniel 4:10-12). Instead he describes something more ordinary, and yet also something more able to show up, to take over inch by inch, and eventually to transform a whole landscape. Fussy people might deem this uninvited plant to be too much of a good thing. Others might consider it a nuisance, but what about those who, like the birds, need a home where they can be safe? They will be happy.

The parable therefore depends on satire. Just as it reorients the image of birds and majestic trees in Ezekiel 17:23, so too it promises to upend a society’s ways of enforcing stability and relegating everyone to their “proper” places. The reign of God will mess with established boundaries and conventional values. Like a fast-replicating plant, it will get into everything. It will bring life and color to desolate places. It will crowd out other concerns. It will resist our manipulations. Its humble appearance will expose and mock pride and pretentiousness like a good burlesque show.

As a result, some people will want to burn it all down in a pointless attempt to restore their fields.

A seedy gospel?

So much of what makes Mark a theologically compelling narrative resides in the confusion and mystery that propel the plot forward. Jesus generates amazement but also misunderstanding. Apparent insiders stumble along and abandon Jesus in the end, while some characters from the margins demonstrate an unlikely capacity for faith and recognition (see the anonymous woman in Mark 5:25-34; the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30; Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52; and the centurion in Mark 15:39).

These two parables therefore exercise an important function when Mark creates a crisis of confidence among its readers. The parables insist that the reign of God will not remain secretive forever, nor does its ultimate emergence depend on humanity’s ingenuity, social engineering, pietistic intensity, moral virtue, or spiritual cleverness. It exposes and ultimately replaces systems of dominance and servitude (see Mark 3:24-27; Mark 10:42-44),1 not only in sudden and decisive instances, but also in any moment in which it merely puts forth a new leaf or shoot. In those moments, people come to recognize God’s reign, share in divine blessings, and join in God’s commitment to forge an alternate society that renounces the politics of fear and intimidation.

It bears mentioning that Mark’s outlook on the reign of God will not endorse a passive stance on our part. While there is something inevitable about God’s deliverance, still other passages in Mark call would-be disciples to participate in the Christ’s activity.

The Markan parables do not promise a gospel of unhindered progress, as if God’s reign is guaranteed to be more prevalent and influential ten years from now than it was ten years ago. But the parables do insist that the new order Jesus declares through his words and deeds will not be relegated to certain spheres. There is no special biome to which the mustard plant is confined. With its seeds carried by the wind and stuck to hikers’ shoelaces, it will grow where it will.

Likewise, the reign of God does not carve out a separate sacred space; it claims all aspects of human existence. There is no such thing, not in Christianity at least, as an apolitical gospel. There is no economically neutral gospel. There is no gospel that dismisses the importance of embodied existence and interpersonal relationships. Whatever you preach and however your church conducts its ministry, if it doesn’t provide sanctuary, hospitality, sustenance, and renewal to those who need it, like little birds in a field full of foxes, then it isn’t the gospel.

In short, there is no gospel in which Jesus remains buried in the ground like a dormant seed.


  1. The word lachanon (in Mark 4:32) commonly means vegetable and not shrub. It is probably best to take it more generically in this parable as “plants.”
  2. It should be clear that I am not singling out Judaism here with the reference to oppressive systems. The passages I cite have a much broader view, and Mark is generally careful to avoid criticizing Judaism collectively. Certain leaders receive the brunt of this Gospel’s complaints.

First Reading

Commentary on Ezekiel 17:22-24

Charles L. Aaron, Jr.

Ezekiel can proclaim God’s judgment in stark, forceful ways: “You have feared the sword; and I will bring the sword upon you, says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 11:8).

God’s anger can appear in the way the people had most dreaded. Ezekiel can point out idolatry in ways that push the boundaries of propriety: “But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame” (16:15). Ezekiel’s pronouncements of God’s condemnation and punishment did not mince words. These fearsome, even borderline repulsive judgments give Ezekiel his reputation for not holding back, and even provoking controversy. The church should not ignore Ezekiel. He is a prophet to be reckoned with.

Despite the roughness of Ezekiel’s words of judgment, he can also proclaim forgiveness, restoration, and renewal in images just as memorable. His tender words are as unforgettable as his scold. Here in this passage he plays with an image that evokes hope and blessing. He flips an image of judgment into a word of grace. The same image that served to describe punishment now promises a new beginning.

Verses 22-24 fit into the context of the whole of Ezekiel 17. The prophet identifies his message as a “riddle,” and an “allegory” (verse 2). Those terms seem designed to cause the reader to pay closer attention. An eagle plucks off the top of a cedar tree, and then carries it off. As an historical reference, the riddle refers to Babylon removing from Judah the king Jehoiachin. The riddle in part alludes to the mystery of wondering how God works within history, and through the armies of a foreign power. The second eagle refers to Egypt and Zedekiah. Egypt and Babylon become instruments of judgment for God against Judah.

Drawing on the same imagery of the cedar tree, verses 22-24 now speak of God’s restoration. In the simplest terms, this part of the chapter promises that God will act to take a descendent of David and restore the monarchy. This promise gave hope to the exiled Judeans. All was not lost. God would give them a future.

For contemporary Christian preaching, the passage offers rich proclamation of God’s mysterious, creative grace. The God who acted through foreign nations to exact judgment now acts independently to heal and restore. Several themes present themselves for Christian preaching.

Because God acts directly to bring the restoration after exile, the Christian preacher can affirm that God’s judgment is not vindictive. God does judge unfaithfulness and idolatry, but that judgment serves as correction. Once the people learn the lesson, and maybe even when they do not learn the lesson, God acts to restore after the punishment.

Once God takes the “sprig” from the top of the cedar, that sprig grows into a tree that produces fruit. The boughs of the tree provide shade and shelter for birds. The earlier allegory had used the fearsome image of an eagle. Now the oracle of salvation talks of birds that need shelter. The “allegorical” image evokes protection, stability, and safety. God not only forgives the idolatry and unfaithfulness, God not only restores the status of Judah, but uses the chosen people to bring blessing to others.

We see this theme in other parts of scripture. In Daniel 4, a chapter filled with bizarre imagery (as allegorical as Ezekiel 17), Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a tree in which birds could nest and under which animals could seek shelter (verses 10-12). Daniel 4 speaks to the role of kings and rulers to provide an opportunity for life. The king should set up conditions that permitted people in the realm to flourish. The gospel lesson for this Sunday draws on the motif of a bush/tree that provides shade and protection (Mark 4:30-32). The parable from Mark uses this image of stability and security as a metaphor for the dominion of God. The tree does not create stability at the sacrifice of individuality. The tree does not coerce order. The tree provides the space and the opportunity for life to develop.

How many ears long desperately for such a message? With estimates of refugees worldwide around 65 million and total displaced persons over 200 million, might Ezekiel’s reworked allegory bring both comfort to the sojourner and impetus to mission? Might the declaration that “in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind” give heart to those who find even sturdy physical structures still a place of turmoil and abuse and give the courage to keep going?

First United Methodist Church of Dallas hosts an annual service in which the community of faith (ecumenical and interreligious) remembers those who have died in the city without a service or any outward opportunity to be mourned. Some of the children are listed in the bulletin only as “baby girl.” God wants a nest for all of the birds. God wants shelter and nurture for all of the birds.

Ezekiel 17 ends with the affirmation that the act of restoration will spread out to make known God’s identity. The tree will become a means of making God’s presence known. God judges abuses of power, and works within human affairs to promote good government and justice.

A few short, poetic verses reframe God’s judgment, promote physical stability, and reconnect estranged people with God’s identity. The act of restoration starts small, with just a “sprig,” but blossoms into a full, comprehensive blessing.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 1 Samuel 15:34—16:13

Alphonetta Wines

More than once, readers, including myself, have looked at how much space scripture gives to David and wondered, “Why?”

More than Abraham who first had the vision of a people worshipping one God? More than Moses who led the nation across the Red Sea, through the wilderness, bringing liberation and freedom to the enslaved? More than Joshua who crossed the Jordan River bringing Israel into the (inhabited) Promised Land?

From first mention in Ruth 4:13 to last mention in Zechariah 13:1 David’s name appears more than a thousand times in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. In the New Testament, his name appears fifty-nine times in the Second Testament. Who is the man and why is it that his story, his writings, those attributed to him, and mention of him take up so much space in the biblical text? I am convinced that the answer to this question lies in the dire warning that God/Samuel gave Israel in 1 Samuel 8:1-22 regarding the inadvisability of monarchial leadership.

Through the pages of David’s story, the reader encounters full blast the blessings and difficulties, the victories and defeats, the best and worst of leadership. Saul’s reign before him ended tragically with Israel defeated and Saul and his sons dying in battle on the same day. Saul’s final self-inflicted wound compounded the tragedy. Furthermore, Samuel’s refusal to see Saul after he made the unlawful sacrifice, along with God’s rejection of and regret that he anointed Saul added insult to injury.

While Saul’s reign was preceded with a warning from God, David’s reign was preceded with God’s regret. This somber note is so brief it is often overlooked. David’s story begins with a note that God regretted making Saul king. The reader knows that God’s warning about kingship in general and regret over Saul in particular are ever present, ever silent in the background.

Only twice throughout the entire biblical corpus is there any mention of God regretting anything. Recall that in Genesis 6:6 God regrets creating humanity and sends a flood to restart humanity. Here in 1 Samuel 15:34, God regrets having anointed Saul. One can almost feel the sadness as God comes to terms with what God has done. Just as the flood was an attempt to start anew, so too was anointing David. As with Jesus years later, David’s anointing represented a new beginning for the nation Israel. It was a heavy weight to carry. Is it any wonder that David, no matter how magnificent, would also fail?

In 1 Samuel 16:7 God affirms what God said earlier in 1 Samuel 13:14. God’s qualifications were no longer external, height and good looks, but now the heart was sole qualifier for leadership. Granted, David was also good-looking, but that wasn’t the reason God chose him to lead the nation. Perhaps a good heart would prevent failure. Perhaps a good heart would preclude giving in to any temptation to abuse power. Perhaps a candidate (David) who already had a good heart was even better than God equipping a candidate (Saul) with a new heart.

The stark contrast between Saul and David was visible and on display from the very beginning. Saul was part of a wealthy family. “Tall, handsome, the son of a wealthy family (1 Samuel 9:1-2), Saul seemed to have everything — everything that is, except confidence in God and himself.”1 David, the shepherd boy, seemed to have nothing.

While Saul considered himself the least, David’s family considered him the least. Much like failing to call someone to dinner, David’s family didn’t even think of him, let alone call him to the lineup to be considered for the kingship. The one that the family rejected became Israel’s king. While Saul objected to being anointed, David raises no objection whatsoever. While David’s family thought little of him and his time with the sheep, it seems that David’s time as a shepherd was just what was needed to prepare his heart. Kingship is something he was willing to embrace.

Even so, silently in the background, God’s warning still hangs in the air. The validity of God’s warning would be played out again and again. For starters, neither Saul the underachiever nor David the overachiever was exempt from the pressures of leadership.

The sad truth is that David’s good heart and his willingness to take on the responsibilities of kingship was not enough to protect him from the temptation to overstep his bounds. Despite saving the nation from Philistine domination by killing Goliath, despite all his military victories, despite recovery of the ark, despite organizing the nation and its worship, despite sparing the life of Saul and any potential rivals from Saul’s family, David was still vulnerable to the risk of abusing his power.

Abusing his power in his rape of/marriage to Bathsheba, conspiracy to kill her husband, relationships with many women, conducting a census, along with failure to discipline his son Amnon or speak up for his daughter Tamar2 when Amnon raped her, and unresolved conflict with his son Absalom are all part of David’s story. Leadership is a matter of the heart. Sadly, even David’s heart, failed him. Noting David’s willingness to repent or that he was a “man after God’s own heart” should neither negate nor nullify “the whole story, the rest of the story”3 regarding David’s life.


  1. Alphonetta Wines, “Thinking the Unthinkable: God as Enemy — An Image of God in the Book of Job and Other Books of the Hebrew Bible” (PhD diss., Texas Christian University, 2011), 58.
  2. It is interesting to note that scripture refers to Tamar in her role as sister, not as David’s daughter, which she was. It seems that the biblical writer(s) wanted to distance David from what happened to his daughter. Perhaps this was a way of signaling the tragedy of his inaction on her behalf.
  3. A frequent saying of Dr. Alfie Wines on the importance of broad holistic views and understanding regarding biblical interpretation during her Facebook Live #BibleStudyRemix, Tuesdays 7 pm CST.


Commentary on Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15

Scott Shauf

The superscription for Psalm 92 declares it to be “a song for the Sabbath day.”

This may be puzzling to readers, for the Sabbath is not referenced anywhere in the rest of the psalm. It may be, however, that understanding the setting of the Sabbath is key for interpreting the entire work. This psalm warrants our careful theological consideration.

The Praise of God

The psalm opens with lines that no one faithful to God would doubt: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High.” This proclamation sets the positive tone for the whole psalm and is a worthy reminder of the value of worship. Verse 2 names the two chief qualities of God that become the basis of our thanksgiving and praise: God’s “steadfast love” and “faithfulness.” “Steadfast love” is the NRSV’s translation of the single Hebrew word khesed. The Hebrew meaning is difficult to convey with any single English expression, and thus we see different English Bibles using a variety of translations in different contexts: steadfast love, lovingkindness, love, kindness, mercy, loyalty, favor, devotion, goodness, and still others. The range of translations gives a sense of the broad meaning of the word. God’s khesed and faithfulness (Hebrew emunah) are the two primary attributes of God’s covenant relationship with Israel, as expressed in the self-revelation of God given to Moses at Mt. Sinai: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

That God is to be praised both morning and night (v. 2) adds to the intensity of the worship. The significance is furthered still by the addition of musical instruments to the praise in v. 3: the lute, harp, and lyre. This suggests a formal setting of worship, as certainly few in ancient Israel would have had access to all three instruments — and certainly no one could play them all together! Corporate worship is not to be neglected. Verse 4 indicates that it is God’s “work” that provides the impetus for such praise. While the psalmist may have in mind especially the victory over enemies described in vv. 10-11, the expression here in v. 4, simply “your work … the works of your hands,” is general enough that different participants in worship will no doubt think of many different things that God may be praised for.

What’s Skipped

Verses 5-11 are omitted from the lectionary reading. In these the praise theme is continued, and two additional features, both common in the psalms, are added: God’s provision of victory over enemies, and a contrast between the wicked and the righteous (the latter more common yet in the wisdom literature). The discussion of the wicked sets up the discussion of the righteous that begins in v. 12.

The Righteous Flourish?

The second part of today’s reading begins with an assertion that the righteous flourish (v. 12), comparing their flourishing with that of two important trees of the area, the palm and the cedar of Lebanon. The latter is referred to frequently throughout the Old Testament as a symbol of strength. Verse 14 adds to the picture of the flourishing of the righteous, continuing with the tree symbolism, by asserting that they still produce fruit, even in old age, and that they are “always green and full of sap.” The comparison of those who follow God with thriving trees is a common one in scripture (e.g., Psalms 1:3; 52:8; 104:16).

Isn’t here where the text becomes problematic for us? Our own experience and our knowledge of history teach us that the righteous indeed do not always flourish, that in fact it is precisely the righteous who frequently suffer more than others. This is, of course, a common problem both in scripture and for theology more broadly. In this case, however, a solution is suggested by the psalm itself.

The key is v. 13. The depicted flourishing of the trees includes their location: “They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.” The combination of thriving flora and temple imagery, such as is seen here, is actually quite common. Such is the basis for the picture of paradise as a magnificent garden, filled with the divine presence, seen in both Genesis 1-3 and in Revelation 21-22 (Ezekiel 47:1-12 also presents a wonderful picture of this, specifically in connection with the Jerusalem temple). The flourishing of the righteous is thus rooted (pardon the pun) in the presence of God.

The Eschaton and the Sabbath

This fact invites us to think eschatologically about the psalm. If the flourishing of the righteous happens in the house of God, then we are not there yet. As Paul says, we still long “to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2). We still live in a world where God’s presence is experienced, to be sure, but not in the fullest sense. For that we wait for the coming of God’s kingdom in power, for “the day of the Lord.” The depiction of the flourishing of the righteous in the psalm is something we look forward to, and for which we praise God in moments when we do experience it in this life.

Here is where the Sabbath connection of the psalm comes in. In Jewish tradition the Sabbath was understood as a symbol of the perfect rest to come. The Mishnah (the earliest collection of Jewish tradition) tells us that this particular psalm was sung by the Levites in the temple on the Sabbath (Tamid 7:4). The psalm is described as “a song for the world that is to come, for the day which is wholly Sabbath rest for eternity.”1 Hence there is a connection between eschatology and the Sabbath. The New Testament book of Hebrews picks up on this idea of the Sabbath as something to be fulfilled only in God’s kingdom (3:7-4:11). Proclaiming this psalm, then, is an act of faith — we declare God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, while we yet wait for its promise of the flourishing of the righteous to be fulfilled.


1 The Mishnah: A New Translation, trans. Jacob Neusner (Yale University Press, 1991), ad loc.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17

David E. Fredrickson

If given the chance to interrogate Paul directly on this passage, my side of the conversation would look something like this:

Tharrountes oun pantote. Really, Paul? You just wrote not so many words ago that we (I assume that means you, but maybe not) are groaning and longing and weighed down. Now, however, you declare that you “are always confident.”

Paul, you write that you are always bold — over-bold, even, and downright reckless. What is it that you know about yourself that lets you reveal yourself in self-contradiction, in such inconsistency? Many keep this sort of thing to themselves! What is it that you know that makes you advertise such wild mood swings to us, your readers, many of whom in the centuries after your death would refuse to see it in you just as they refuse to see it in themselves?

Your inner contradiction has not occurred to pious readers, or if it has they have repressed the thought. Perhaps, and this is what I hope, you have recorded your oscillation between manic heights and the dumps precisely for this reason: for others to see the traces you left behind, in these words, of your unguarded self, these traces called Scripture, the living voice of God, which some would say cannot contradict itself.

In your condition, how can you possibly walk about (peripatoumen, 2 Corinthians 5:7) teaching, preaching, thinking, listening, and writing letters? You tell us you are caught both by recklessness and by the coming undone that comes from grief’s just wanting to fall asleep. Reckless, you trip over your own feet rushing forward; yet weighed down, you can’t throw off the bedclothes, can’t sit up, can’t plant your feet on the floor. How is this walking about possible when you yearn and groan, always about to fall off the edge? You rush onward and you long for rest. Boldness trips up. Sadness paralyzes. In that state, how do you manage to walk so evenly, so temperately?

You, Paul, say that walking is possible through faith (dia pisteos), is it? Is that the answer? And what is faith? Is it a form of knowledge? That is what the Christian tradition, with some rare exceptions, thinks you meant to say. For most believers (or at least the ones who feel the pressure to toe the line) faith is what always comes after the word “that” in such sentences as “I believe that …,” “I confess that …,” “I hope that …,”  “I know that …” But you seem convinced that (another self-contradiction?) faith is most assuredly not a form of knowledge, even a meager scrap of knowledge.

What else would “not through sight” mean except that in your manic ups and downs you are flying blind? Your faith is recalcitrant blindness. You walk with eyes completely closed, not even slightly open. And knowledge for you (even the smallest bit of knowledge) is no friend of faith. Knowledge is unlike faith, like water is unlike fire. So, perhaps your temperate walking, when you are able to put one foot in front of another, is a ruse.

I fear for you Paul. If it is true what you say about each person receiving back what they have done in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10), then this blind walking … where will it lead? Your gait weighed down with longing yet legs rushing ahead beyond where they can take you — can this possibly be pleasing to Christ who will judge and return your body’s bumbling to you (2 Corinthians 5:10)?

You seem to think so. In your recklessness/depression you hide neither from God before whom you are out of your mind (2 Corinthians 5:13) nor from humans (5:11), although you do scale back your ecstasy (exestemen, 5:13) long enough to walk, write letters, and get along with folks (sopronoumen, 5:13). You even invite the Corinthians to boast in your madness! You give them a defense (5:12), of sorts, against sober-minded theologians in whose system God is God by being the most self-controlled being (making God the Supreme Being) in the universe and who smiles down on God’s imitators as they mock your weakness and intrude upon your lovesick relationship with the Corinthians.

You, on the other hand, wash your hands of the Supreme Being, and stick with another madman, Jesus, whom you believe is not dead and not confined to the past but beckons from an unimaginable future. Jesus in his own lovesickness died for all (2 Corinthians 5:14-16). Was that bold and reckless? Or did he die in weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4)? If this one is the Christ who will judge, if he is the one who must be pleased (2 Corinthians 5:9), then you, Paul, are in pretty good shape — if you can call living with this low/high mania being “in good shape.”

Let’s take a step back from the interrogation and look more closely at Paul’s preoccupation with “knowing,” or more accurately with his “not-knowing” in the phrase, “We walk by faith.”

On the one hand, “knowing” is the bread and butter of the Supreme Being, or perhaps because God is in need of nothing outside of Godself (foodstuffs included), “knowing” is the sustenance of God’s imitators, who as mini-supreme beings seek to replicate their Master’s ordering of the world upon churches and upon personal lives — their own lives, of course, but especially the inner lives of others.

On the other hand, for Paul, who believes in the anointed one, the King to come, the Christ, the one whom he no longer knows “from a human point of view” (kata sarka), the one who is (a very strange sense of the word “is” since “is-ness” here depends on the Christ’s “not-yet-ness”) to come, the one who is always yet to come, who if he should ever come would no longer be the one who is always yet to come… (sentence incomplete, since to complete it would be to ruin it).

A final thought on the phrase kata sarka: I take this to be the marker of anything that comes into and passes out of being. Sarx is not the marker of Paul’s Christ (but “body” most certainly is), whom he knows by not-knowing. Whom he has by not having.

I begin to see the logic of Paul’s madness …