Lectionary Commentaries for June 10, 2012
Second Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 3:20-35

Meda Stamper

Jesus did not fit in.  He was at odds with his family’s sociological script and with the religious authorities.

Even among his closest companions, as we have just read in 3:19, there is one who will betray him.  But undergirding all of that resistance from the beginning, he was at odds with Satan.

This passage has a chiastic structure and is an example of Mark’s way of framing one episode with another (a Markan intercalation, or sandwich):

verse 20  Crowd
verse 21  Family
verse 22  Scribes (Jesus is casting out demons by the ruler of the demons)
verses 23-27  The parables of Satan’s end
verses 28-30  Scribes guilty of unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (because they have said that Jesus has an unclean spirit)
verse 31f  Family
verse 32f  Crowd

Here Jesus’ conflict with his family frames an account of his conflict with the religious establishment, and at the center of the chiasm is the conflict with Satan, told in a parable.  This conflict began in the wilderness from which Jesus emerged proclaiming the kingdom of God in 1:12-15.  Now it is Satan’s kingdom or household that is in question.

The first group introduced in the passage is the crowd, pressing in on Jesus and his disciples.  The word crowd appears in 14 of the Gospel’s 16 chapters, and even in chapter 1, where the word itself does not appear, the whole city gathers around the door (1:32-33), everyone is searching for him (1:37), and he can no longer go into a town openly (1:45).  At the other end of the Gospel, a crowd will arrest him in 14:43, and the crowd will call for Barabbas’ release and Jesus’ death in 15:8, 11, 15. 

The crowd presses upon him, threatening to crush him, in 3:9, so much so that Jesus has a boat ready for his escape, and by 4:1 he is preaching from the boat because of the size of the crowd.  He and his disciples cannot manage to eat in the present passage, and the same happens in 6:31.  But in 6:34, Jesus will have compassion on the crowd, whom he sees as sheep without a shepherd, and he will teach and feed them.  So here also, when the crowd of 3:20 reappears in 3:32, it has become his inner circle, people whom he identifies as his brothers and sisters and mother when his family of origin has rejected him.

In 3:21, Jesus’ family goes out to restrain him.  The verb used here is also used to describe Jesus’ arrest (14:1, 44, 46, 49) and John the Baptist’s (6:17).  They are saying that he has gone out of his mind.  While the crowd is drawn in, the family becomes outsiders.  This contrast between insiders and outsiders is further developed in 4:11, again in connection with Jesus’ teaching in parables.  Those inside are given the secret of the kingdom, but those outside are left unmoved and mystified.

The family’s rejection of Jesus here is echoed in John 7:5, where we read that his brothers do not believe in him.  We also find references in John 7:20 and 8:48, 52 to accusations that Jesus has a demon.  Then in John 10:20 the suggestion that he is possessed accompanies the accusation that he is out of his mind.  Here in Mark 3:21-22, the two accusations come together again as the scribes from Jerusalem conclude that the power behind Jesus’ exorcisms must be Satan himself.

The scribes have already been mentioned at the very opening of Jesus’ ministry as those whose teaching is less authoritative than Jesus’.  They question in their hearts and accuse him of blasphemy when he forgives the paralytic in 2:6.  They criticize him in association with the Pharisees in 2:16 and again in 7:1, 5.  But when the Pharisees fade away as the story moves toward Jerusalem, the scribes continue to hold a central role in the opposition, alongside the chief priests and elders (see, for example, 8:31; 14:43; 15:31).  The reference to Jerusalem in 3:22 hints at the ultimate conflict with the Jerusalem religious authorities.

Jesus, preaching in Jerusalem, will warn the crowd in 12:38-40 to beware of the scribes who like to be honored in public places while they secretly devour widows houses.  “They will receive the greater condemnation” (12:40).  Already here in 3:29-30 they are guilty of an unforgivable sin because they mistake the Holy Spirit for Satan.  They recognize that Jesus must be drawing on great power to perform exorcisms but fatally misidentify its source because he does not behave as they expect a righteous person to behave, which is to say, most of all, that he is not one of them.  He associates with the wrong people, breaks Sabbath laws, and blasphemes by forgiving sins, and so they commit the greatest blasphemy of all.

Exorcisms, of which there are four in Mark in addition to many other references to them, point to the cosmic battle with Satan, a battle that begins immediately after Jesus’ baptism when the Spirit drives him into temptation.  The unclean spirits recognize Jesus from the beginning and know that Jesus can destroy them (1:24) as others are plotting to destroy Jesus (3:6)

Now Jesus makes clear, in the form of a parable, the scope of what he is doing in his freeing of the demon-possessed.  Jesus is coming to plunder Satan’s household and bring about his end, not by division from within but by stealth and force from without.  Jesus, who was stronger than John the Baptist (1:7), is stronger than the strong man Satan too.

Jesus’ stealthy binding of the powers of evil ultimately undermines Satan so completely that even when he appears to have succeeded in destroying Jesus in the crucifixion, the very destruction of the Son issues not in defeat but in the mysterious victory of God.

This passage, like most passages in the gospels, contains the whole story in nuce.  At the center is Jesus’ victory for the kingdom of God, the subversion of the strong man by the stronger one and the freeing of the plunder, God’s good creation.  Moving out from there, we also see reflections in Jesus’ story of the story of the community in which the Gospel was first told and read and proclaimed and the ones who in following Jesus have met similar resistance.

These, like Jesus and his disciples, may have lost mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and houses and fields for the sake of the good news (10:28-30) and may have felt themselves under threat from powers and principalities as he was.  So for those people, then and through the ages, there is comfort in the turn from restraint and threat to freedom, courage, and hope, even in the face of the ones who would kill Jesus.

Then here perhaps are we, the crowd pressing in to see him and touch him, maybe urgently and desperately, but as the tale turns we find that our desperate desire has been more than met.  We also are claimed by him as his sisters and brothers and mother, no longer outsiders at a distance, but holders of the secrets of the kingdom, drawn into the inner circle of the mystery and love of God.

First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 3:8-15

Melinda Quivik

Reading the Genesis 3 text in light of Jesus’ confrontations with people who thought he was “out of his mind,” focuses our attention on expectations about the relationships between God and humans, and humans and creation.

From the beginning of this scene — before we arrive at the articulated differences between God and the humans — we hear an astonishing aspect of their relationship. The first sentence tells us that the Lord God walks in the garden. God has come to the place where people are living. It is a pleasant scene in which God walks in the evening breeze without a hint of what seems a bitter denunciation to come. God seeking-out-creation governs the action.

The story then gives us a number of pithy theological questions to ponder. Since God seems not to know where the humans are, does this mean God is not omniscient? When the human explains he was afraid because of his nakedness, does he not know that God will find this strange? How did the human even know there is something to fear in being naked?

God asks the sensible question: How did you know you should hide? Not waiting for an answer, God drives immediately to the suspicion that the knowledge of good and evil has come into the human: “Have you eaten from the tree…?” 

This story is hard to hear without centuries of built-up prejudices ruling the interpretation. In order to let the gospel rise to the surface, we have to expunge the ideas that this story tells us the woman is inferior and the snake is despicable. How can we do that?

Rather than seeing this story as depicting necessary dualism between human and divine, human and nature, good and evil, knowledge (bad) and ignorance (bliss), we might notice the harm that comes from such simplistic readings. Seeing the story only through the structures of oppositions leads to divisive and untrue views of creation.

1)  Pointedly, the story does not say the woman is a vixen for suggesting that the fruit should be eaten nor is she inferior to the man. If we see the woman in Genesis 3 through the view of her creation as the “helper” (Genesis 2:18), and we define “helper” as a subordinate creature (i.e., he initiates; she obeys or follows), we ignore the more generous interpretation offered by the word “helper” when it is used to refer to God.1

2) We might note that this story shows us the possibility that truth does not come only from the divine but from what God has created: the snake, the tree, and the initiative — the daring — of the woman in taking a risk.2

3) Try shedding the notion that the “fall” story is about sin — especially sexual sin — and the shame of the naked body. Try on the notion that gaining the knowledge given by the forbidden tree allows the humans to differentiate themselves from the rest of nature. This self-image is necessary for stewardship and care of creation. It also opens the opportunity to know God’s goodness in clothing them (Genesis 3:21-22).3 “Once the human beings have shown themselves willing to transgress the boundaries of God, nakedness becomes frightening, since even the boundaries of their bodies no longer seem secure.”4 Blame is their response to fear of vulnerability rather than shame.

4) See what difference it makes to reinterpret the snake’s qualities. The Hebrew word for what NRSV calls “cunning” is arum which can also be crafty and prudent (Proverbs 12:16) and clever (Proverbs 12:23; 13:16; 14:8; and 22:3). We speak of cunning in negative terms while clever is positive. The snake did not simply cause disobedience but put an end to uncritical obeisance. Consider whether asking a question is evidence of evil, for that is what the snake, in fact, does. Asking what God really said is not the symbol of demonic powers but, rather, using one’s intelligence.5

5) This Genesis story sets the stage for the vocation of the faithful. In the garden, when confronted with their fear [of nakedness, of vulnerability, of non-differentiation from animals because they are not yet clothed], the humans seek to place blame on someone other than themselves. The adam (creature of dust) blames the woman, and the woman blames the snake. As a story depicting human reaction to threats, this scene is perfect. What, if not blame of others, do humans exercise when they are attacked? What, if not oppression of the foreigner, do nations initiate when scared? We have come a long distance from the beginning of this scene. No longer is creation simply a garden in which the creator walks in the evening breeze. Trouble has appeared.

Jesus’ way is markedly different from that of the humans in Genesis 3. Jesus re-defines kinship, saying that his family is neither based in biology nor comprised of people like himself: fellow rabbis and theologians. His family are those who do “the will of God.” He challenges the expected structures of relationship and of power, creating community out of relationships centered in God. The Old Adam and the New Adam stand in stark contrast. Jesus “refuses the idolatry of security.”6

It remains for us humans to acknowledge our fear and, clothed with the garments of God’s care for us, to see how we might respond with our weaknesses rather than by asserting power over others. How might such a posture alter our relationships with Earth (and even snakes!)?

1Cf. Hosea 13:9; Exod. 18:4; Deut 33:26; Pss. 146:5; 33:20; 115:9-11; 70:5.
2Robert Saler, “The Transformation of Reason in Genesis 2-3,” in Currents in Theology and Mission 36:4 (Aug 2009), 283-284.
3R.A. Oden, “Grace or Status, Yahweh’s Clothing of the First Humans,” in The Bible Without Theology (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), 102-103.
4Scott Bayder-Saye, “Fear in the Garden: The State of Emergency and the Politics of Blessing,” in Ex Auditu 24 (2008), 5.
5Arthur Walker-Jones, “Eden for Cyborgs: Ecocriticism and Genesis 2-3,” in Biblical Interpretation 16 (2008), 263-293.
6Bayder-Saye, 11.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 1 Samuel 8:4-11 [12-15] 16-20; [11:14-15]

Karla Suomala

“We Want a King!”

It’s hard to find a headline during this campaign season in which candidates, politicians, and special interest groups are not demanding “radical” change in the way things are done in America.

Things have got to change, they say. What they don’t agree upon is what needs change, how to change it or even who should effect the change.

In the passage from 1 Samuel 8, we hear echoes of perhaps a similarly divisive political climate in ancient Israel. Things have got to change, the system is broken, we hear the people telling Samuel, their aging statesman. What’s hard for us to imagine, though, living in a 21st century democracy, is the kind of change that elders of Israel were urging.  “Give us a king to govern us!” they demanded in 1 Samuel 8:6. 

It is not entirely clear why the ancient Israelites transitioned from a tribal society into a monarchy in the early Iron Age (sometime in the late 11th or early 10th century). Up until this point, the most significant transition between leaders in the biblical text occurs when Moses dies and Joshua, Moses’s assistant, takes over. After that, the biblical text describes a fairly haphazard state of affairs in which charismatic leaders (judges) rose up from time to time to lead groups of Israelites, generally into battle, culminating in the figure of Samuel. As the author of Judges records, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (17:6). 

Monarchy was certainly not a new institution in the Ancient Near East, having deep roots in Mesopotamia and Egypt, as well as nations surrounding Israel. Israel was perhaps unusual in not having instituted a monarchy. But King Saul rose to power in a period characterized by unprecedented upheaval among Israel’s neighbors. “Throughout most of its recorded history,” notes James Kugel, “the little strip of territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea had been dominated by its larger, more powerful neighbors…Egypt to the south, Babylon and Assyria to the east, Aram/Syria to the north, and still farther north, the Hittites.” During the reigns of Saul and David, however, most of these nations were distracted by their own internal issues. It’s possible that this reprieve gave the “tribes of Israel a unique opportunity, not only to cast off foreign domination but to form a mini-empire of their own…”1 

In addition to the opportunities created by this temporary power vacuum, ancient Israel was likely experiencing internal turmoil due to competing coalitions within the tribal society. The author of the text hints at this possibility at the beginning the 1 Samuel 8 when he frames the narrative by pointing out that Samuel had grown old and that he had appointed his sons as judges, “yet his sons did not following in his ways, but turned aside for gain; they took bribes and perverted justice” (verses 1-3). 

This same information is immediately repeated in verses 4-5, when these words are put in the mouths of the elders of Israel who come to Samuel who tell Samuel, “You are old…  appoint for us a king to govern us, like other nations.” 

For some, then, a monarchy might have meant a more reliable system of governance which might allow for more equitable rule than seemed probable under the leadership of Samuel’s wayward sons. For others, and not as obvious in the text itself, it’s possible that the elders represented an elite segment of society who would also stand to benefit under a monarchy, the 1% if you will. For them, having a king would create the possibility for significant personal gain, a society in which both power and resources were consolidated in the hands of a few.

The text doesn’t provide any further clues as to who more precisely was interested in a king or even why, suggesting variously that “the elders of the people of Israel” (8:4), “the people who were asking for a king” (8:10), “the people of Israel” (8:22), or simply “the people” (8:19, 21). The only stated rationale for such dramatic social change: they wanted someone to govern them, they wanted to be like the other nations, and they wanted a king to go out before them to fight their battles.

It is also possible that not everyone was on board with the idea of monarchy. This becomes apparent in the sharp contrast in the text between the seemingly unified position of the people and both Samuel’s and God’s distinctly negative responses. Upon hearing the people’s request, the narrator reports that “the thing displeased Samuel” and that “Samuel prayed to the Lord,” presumably about his concerns.

God comforts Samuel, saying, in effect, ‘Don’t worry, this is not about you. Look what I’ve done for them in the past, and look how they’ve rejected me.’ God continues speaking, “Now then, listen to their voice; only — you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the way of the king…” (8:9). Samuel goes on, at great length, to demonstrate that a king is not necessarily the solution to all their problems. In fact, in his view, a king is just the beginning of a completely new set of problems. 

It’s easy to side with Samuel and God in this passage, from our vantage point in a democracy, but we may not be giving the people the credit they deserve. If part of the reason the Israelites want a king has to do with justice and good governance, then Samuel misses this altogether. In his response, he doesn’t recognize their concern, by either defending his sons or explaining past injustices. One almost gets the feeling that he is deflecting the legitimate concerns of the people by making it about him! Does he feel guilt about not being as attentive to these kinds of problems as he should have been? 

God’s response is a bit strange as well. God, like Samuel registers the request as a personal attack, yet God tells Samuel to go ahead and give them a king. We are left wondering if God authorizes this change in affairs because God wants to punish the people or because God sees new potential, some fresh air, in a different form of governance. Maybe God is just as ready for a change as the people, but just wasn’t willing to initiate it. Did God need a nudge? 

1Kugel, James, How to Read the Bible:  A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now (New York: Free Press, 2007), 447-448.


Commentary on Psalm 130

Mark Throntveit

Psalm 130, best known by its Latin incipit De Profundis, “Out of the Depths,” has inspired church musicians for centuries, usually in the context of a Requiem Mass.

One need only mention Johan Sebastian Bach’s magnificent cantata Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (BWV 131) inspired by Luther’s 1523 paraphrase, Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, for corroboration.  A cursory check, however, reveals that no fewer than thirty-six other works by major composers such as Mozart, Handel, Mendelssohn, and Schoenberg could also be cited. 

Psalm 130 has obviously played a major role in the Catholic and evangelical piety of the Western Church. But what accounts for this popularity? One reason may be its association with a sub-group of the Psalter known since the days of Augustine (354–439 CE) as the Penitential Psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). These psalms often express deep sorrow for sin and ask God for help and forgiveness. Psalm 130 encourages fervent prayer to God (verse 1) the source of forgiveness to those who wait for the Lord (verses 4-6).

Our psalm is also part of a collection of psalms known as the “Songs of Ascents” (Psalms 120–134). Though this is the clearest example of a collection in the Psalter, due to their common superscription “a song of (Psalm 121: “for”) ascents,” and the only one that includes the constitutive psalms in a self-contained unit, the function of the collection as a whole continues to baffle interpreters. Not that proposals are in short supply! These range from a prayer book for devotional use on pilgrimages to the three prescribed annual festivals, to liturgical usage at specific Jewish festivals such as Booths, and the Mishnah’s suggestion of assigning one of the fifteen psalms to each of the fifteen steps in the Jerusalem temple (Ezekiel 40:26, 31) where the Levites supposedly sang their praises.

Then again, perhaps the “steps” refer to a poetic trope found often in these psalms, the staircase, terraced, or step-like repetition of words from previous verses (in our psalm “my soul waits” appears in verses 5 and 6; “I hope/O Israel hope” appears in verses 5 and 7; “those who watch for the morning” appears in verse 6b; and “redeem” appears in verses 7 and 8; the trope also appears in Psalm 121–123; 126–127; 129–130; 133). Others, noticing that in addition to “ascent,” or “step” ma’alah can also refer to the exiles’ journey back from captivity in Babylon (Ezra 2:1; 7:9), have drawn plausible connections to the exiles returning to Jerusalem.

The genre of Psalm 130 is also a question mark. The basic problem is that no one genre is clearly represented. Usually, one distinguishes between the very similar individual lament and the song of thanksgiving by verb “tense.” The lament employs verbal forms that indicate a description of present distress and a prayer for relief. The song of thanksgiving, however, relates the same event(s) with verbal forms that recall the distress as a past event followed by a report of answered prayer. But the 1st person common singular perfect verbs in verses 1 and 5 (“cry” and “wait”) are ambiguous in Hebrew. If they are translated as present tense in English, as in the New Revised Standard Version, we have a lament. If they are construed as past tense in English, as in the KJV, we have a song of thanksgiving.

Further complicating matters, important aspects of both genres are missing. Unusually for a lament, the psalm fails to actually ask for anything besides God’s attention; and it is just as strange in a song of thanksgiving not to relate the divinely answered prayer, since that is what is being acknowledged and testified to in the community. Nevertheless, the most common designation, individual lament, is probably best, and is represented in verses 1-2 if they are read as a present tense prayer or petition for help, and one takes seriously the Qina (3+2, or lament) meter that punctuates the psalm.

Apart from these matters, however, the structure of the psalm is fairly straightforward falling into four two-line sections: An Appeal for Yahweh’s Attention (1-2); Trust in Yahweh’s Desire to Forgive (3-4); Hopeful Expectation (5-6); and Address to the Community (7-8). Following the initial appeal in verses 1-2, a concentric pattern stitches the psalm together and argues for the originality of verses 7-8 against those who would omit them: 

A “Iniquities” (3) 
  B “For (“But,” NRSV) with you” (4)
    C “my soul waits” (5)
    C’ “my soul waits” (6)
  B’ “For with the Lord” (7)
A’ “Iniquities” (8).

At its simplest level the psalm begins with a poignant, though very general, appeal to be heard by the Lord (verses 1-2). Elsewhere in the Psalms, “depths,” the most memorable aspect of Psalm 130, only appears in another lament, Psalm 69:2, 14. The metaphorical nature of this term allows it to convey a great deal of emotion while at the same time remaining non-specific enough that contemporary sufferers can appropriate this classic address to God for themselves. The psalm then moves to a poetic affirmation of God’s readiness to forgive couched in the form of a rhetorical question (verse 3).

It is usually best to take rhetorical questions in Hebrew as expressions of absolute confidence.1 The theological basis for such confidence is proclaimed in verse 4 along with the divine motivation, “that you (Yahweh) may be revered.” This confidence in God stirs the psalmist to express his eager anticipation of God’s response (verse 5-6). Finally, moved by his own sense of forgiveness, the psalmist encourages the community (and us!) to bring that which is troubling them to the Lord in the certain hope that they will find a gracious, loving God, intent on their redemption (verses 7-8).

1Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautsch, trans. A. E. Cowley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1922) 150e

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:13—5:1

Carla Works

To read 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 solely as a summary of Paul’s views on the body, as is often the case, would be a distortion of its powerful passage.

Rather, this text serves as a demonstration of Paul’s certitude in God’s power.

Within the context, Paul’s words illustrate his profound faith in God’s salvific acts.  For a God who can defeat death itself, frail mortal bodies are no challenge to God’s power.  Instead, God demonstrates God’s power in choosing mere mortals to bear witness to divine glory.  With so great a God working among the Corinthians, there is no need to allow the sufferings of the present age to deter them from testifying to God’s new creation.

Paul’s Risky Mission

Paul’s life is certainly not an illustration of a health and wealth gospel.  The apostle is no stranger to suffering.  At the beginning of this letter, he makes reference to severe affliction experienced in Asia (2 Corinthians 1:8). In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, the apostle recounts beatings, shipwrecks, and other near-death experiences to demonstrate the danger of his mission and the sincerity of his faith.  Furthermore, the passage under study immediately follows a catalog of hardships that illustrate human frailty (4:8-12).  All these hardships exemplify that “death is at work in us” (4:12). 

The stakes are high in Paul’s mission.  Both death and life are at work.  Though death is making small victories — afflicting, perplexing, persecuting, and striking down (4:8-10), God has already defeated death by raising the Lord Jesus.  This same God “will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence” (4:14).

Certitude in God’s Power

Underlying the entire message of 2 Corinthians — and indeed Paul’s whole gospel — is the apostle’s certitude in God’s power.  God made Paul a minister (3:4-6), and it is by God’s mercy that Paul has survived numerous hardships (4:1). God is a God of consolation (1:3-7) and reconciliation (5:18-21).

God has chosen mortal bodies in which to display God’s power.  God is in the act of transforming bodies that are so fragile and vulnerable that Paul likens them to jars of clay (4:7).  According to Paul, the reason that God has chosen such fragile vessels is to make clear “this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (4:7).  The good news is only possible because a powerful God is at work.

It is God’s spirit that indwells and transforms mortal bodies.  If the holy law (Romans 7:12), that could not bring life, brought fleeting glory to Moses’ face, how much more lasting glory will God’s life-giving Spirit bring to whose who love God? (2 Corinthians 3:7-11).  This mighty Spirit is working to transform mortal flesh and to bring life (4:11-12).

The apostle’s certitude in God’s power gives him strength to face any hardship.  Since Paul has faith that God who raised Jesus will also raise up those who are in Jesus (4:13-14), he can say with confidence, “We do not lose heart” (4:16). 

Outer versus Inner Nature

In the context of Paul’s certitude in God’s power to transform frail bodies, he writes:  “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (4:16).

What is “our outer nature”?  It has often been assumed that Paul here shares a Hellenistic notion that the physical matter of the body is inconsequential.  Indeed some would go so far as to equate Paul’s statement with later Gnostic thought that the material world — including the body — is evil. 

Paul, however, is not a Gnostic.  Paul is a messenger of a God who not only created bodies, but has set out to redeem them.  This God raised the body of Jesus from the dead and has allowed the divine Spirit to indwell and to transform fragile jars of clay.  Indeed, the resurrection of the body is central to the hope of the believer and integral to Paul’s message (1 Corinthians 15:12-58).

In 2 Corinthians 4:16, Paul acknowledges the frailty of our human existence.  In the context of this passage, the “outer nature” is subject to all the sufferings of this present age — beatings, shipwrecks, afflictions, and trials.  This outer nature is aptly paralleled to earthen vessels that, by their very nature, are subject to weakness (4:7). 

What is truly remarkable in this passage is not that the “outer nature” is wasting away.  The frailty of humanity is not newsworthy.  What is truly amazing is that Paul can say in the midst of hardship that there is hope.  For Paul, this hope is worth allowing oneself to be exposed to hardship in order to proclaim the good news of God’s acts of redemption.  Whatever happens to the body, God will rectify this frail “outer nature.”

The “inner nature” is what God is doing in us that makes the “life of Jesus” also “visible in our bodies” (4:10).  This “inner nature” echoes Paul’s certainty that God is the one enacting transformation (3:18), bringing life (4:12), and shining light in our hearts (4:6). God’s work is ongoing — renewing everyday, even when it is not immediately apparent (4:18).  The inner person is God’s new creation (5:17).

Paul can express hope in the midst of adversity and can subject his body to physical and emotional hardships because he knows with all certainty that God will rectify his body.  The Spirit’s very presence is his assurance that God is at work creating life and redeeming all creation (5:5).

Building from God

Paul contrasts the transient nature of the “earthly tent” with the eternal nature of the heavenly building from God (5:1).  Heaven is the very locus of God’s new creation.  Paul’s appeal to this heavenly building is similar to Paul’s reminder in Philippians 3:20 that “our citizenship is in heaven.”  Though trials and hardships may come in this old age that is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31), Paul calls the church to think in terms of God’s new kingdom where death is swallowed up by life.

Unwavering Hope

Amidst real hardships and suffering, Paul expresses hope in God’s work to redeem and to transform.  The threat of hardship would be enough to drive most believers away, but Paul will stop at nothing to be a bearer of God’s good news.  He knows that the God who is at work in his mortal body is the same God who resurrected Jesus from the dead.   It is in this God whom Paul places his unwavering hope.