Transfiguration of Our Lord (Year B)

Third in a series of lectionary texts which at first blush appear to consist of insider-trading for homileticians, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 wrestles, in what is just small part, with what is a huge issue for the church:

February 22, 2009

Second Reading
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Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Third in a series of lectionary texts which at first blush appear to consist of insider-trading for homileticians, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 wrestles, in what is just small part, with what is a huge issue for the church:

What do we make of those who have heard the gospel, and yet do not believe? This one issue is enough for any text, be it little or big, but there is more here as well which flows out of this question.

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther says that it is the Spirit which quickens the heart to faith. “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith” (Luther’s explanation to the Third Article). As I read Philippians 2:13, Paul would agree. This raises the question, what about those who do not believe? Are they without the Spirit? Are they left to muddle through on their own, spiritless, punchless or faithless? Or worse, do they suffer the fate of Saul, being afflicted by an evil spirit? Paul seems to suggest just this.

At the beginning of this little passage, Paul addresses the question of whether or not the gospel that Paul preaches is “veiled.” The word “veiled” used by Paul here is kekalymmenon, from the Greek verb kaluptō, a word to which we will return shortly. Paul’s conclusion is that if the gospel is veiled — hidden, obscured, unknown — it is only veiled to those who have been blinded by the “god of this world.” Two things are particularly troubling here. First, Paul calls someone (presumably Satan) the god of this world. In other parts of the New Testament, reference is made to the “ruler (archōn) of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), the “wisdom (sophia) of this world” (1 Corinthians 3:19), and following the “course of this world” which is laid out by a spirit that urges disobedience (Ephesians 2:2). Only here in 2 Corinthians 4:4 is Satan called the “god (theos) of this world.” While Paul does not address dualism directly, this “god of this world” would seem to be at odds with, and, in some real way, in serious competition to the God of Heaven. And it is this “god” that veils the gospel and obscures it from the eyes of some.

The second difficulty here is the possibility that the gospel can be veiled. Is the gospel not the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16)? Is the gospel not the life-line for those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18)? Does the gospel not protect us (1 Peter 1:5)? What is Paul playing at here?

Paul suggests that it is the intent of the “god” of this world to blind unbelievers — whether to keep them blinded or to make them unbelievers — and prevent them from seeing the light of the gospel. But Paul does not leave this dualistic conundrum to sit; he launches immediately into the matter of our proclamation. It is our proclamation in this world that is the answer to its would-be “god.” We proclaim Christ — not ourselves but ourselves as slaves to Christ. The light of creation, Paul says, the light which God first spoke into being to blaze in the empty darkness of a void and formless universe is the same light that shines now in our hearts. It is this light which we proclaim, “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,” and in so proclaiming it shine that light into the darkness cast by Satan’s veiling. And here we come once more to that word veil (kaluptō). This “veil” is no match for the light of God and the light of Christ. As Jesus says in the Gospels, “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up (kekalymmenon) that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known” (Matthew 10:26); and “No one after lighting a lamp hides (kaluptei) it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lamp stand, so that those who enter may see the light” (Luke 8:16).

Everything that is at stake in this little passage – veils and “gods” of this world and the problem of those who do not believe – points to our big calling to proclaim the glory of Christ, to speak light into darkness and proclaim the knowledge of the glory of God that we have seen in the face of Jesus Christ. As Paul writes at the end of the third chapter of 2 Corinthians, the passage that most directly precedes this one: “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18).