Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Today’s reading, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, gives us profound insight into how we are transfigured by a double manifestation — of the Messiah’s glory as the image of God and of God’s glory in the face of Jesus the Messiah.
Our clue for interpreting this text is found in the preceding verses. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul speaks about how — through the Spirit of the Lord — all of us, with “unveiled faces,” can “behold” and “reflect” the glory of the Lord as in a mirror. (The Greek kataprizomai can mean both “to behold” and “to reflect.”) As this happens, we are “transformed” into that image, from one degree of glory to another.
The divine mercy we experience through this mirroring gives us courage. We can renounce the shame we would rather hide. We can refuse to appropriate God’s word in ways that disguise our self-interest at the expense of others. And we can boldly manifest the truth of who we are — through the gospel that shines through us — to everyone we encounter, wherever we might be (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).
Seeing and shining the Messiah’s glory, the image of God
But how does all this actually happen — especially amidst the suffering in our lives. We are vulnerable. Our bodies are unpredictable and other people affect us. Does this pathos disclose or veil the truth of the gospel in our lives?
“The god of this age” blinds us by deluding us into thinking that God is manifest solely as wealth, power, and a self-governed wisdom impervious to all that does not serve its interest (see also 10:17; Jeremiah 9:23). But this, for Paul, is a false understanding of God — one we can use to mask our shame and to promote our egos at the expense of others. It only leads to destruction, both within us and in the effect we have on others (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
What this false god keeps us from seeing (and shining) is the light the gospel discloses. (Like kataprizomai, the Greek augazo can mean both “to see” and “to shine.”) And what the light of the gospel manifests is the glory of a crucified Messiah: His overflowing pathos for us — his dying for all that all might live — is the very Wisdom of God and thus is “a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness” (Wisdom 7:26; see also 1 Corinthians 1:30). But this means that our seeing and shining this light takes place amidst a surplus of vulnerability — and not in some transcendent space we might project to hide our shame or disguise our exploitation of others.
Hearts transformed by God’s glory in the face of Jesus the Messiah
This light can so transform us that what we promote when we present ourselves to others is not our own (or someone else’s) interests but the announcement that Jesus the Messiah is Lord (the Greek kurios translates the Hebrew YHWH) — a proclamation that inextricably binds us as slaves to others for Jesus’ sake (2 Corinthians 4:5).
This stands in sharp contrast to those Paul describes as “super-apostles” in a later chapter. Blinded by the god of this age, who disguises himself as an angel of light, these super-apostles also disguise themselves, as “apostles of the Messiah.” But in fact their appropriation of god-talk — about transcendent ideas and supernatural experiences — serves only to mask the way they enslave the Corinthians, and abuse and use them as pawns for their own agendas (2 Corinthians 10:13-20).
Unlike the false god who blinds, the true God speaks, “Let shine out of darkness” (see also Genesis 1:3; Psalm 112:4; Isaiah 9:2). And this divine speaking brings about metamorphosis — a new creation. God “shines” in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6). (The Greek word here is lampo, which simply means “to shine.”)
Moreover, if the light of the “gospel” enables us to see and shine with the glory of the Messiah — the very image of God — then the reverse is also true. What this image discloses is the light of the “knowledge” of glory of God, which shines in the face of Jesus the Messiah (2 Corinthians 4:6). God shines (and thus is known) in our hearts in the “face” of Jesus the Messiah (his personal presence within and among us), which takes the form of a surplus of sufferings for us and consolation through us that, in turn, overflows in our sharing in others’ suffering and consoling and being consoled by them.
Implications for Transfiguration Sunday
So, what insights might we glean from this text, especially in view of its selection for Transfiguration Sunday? Ostensibly, it tells us something about who Jesus is. The light of Jesus the Messiah’s glory discloses the very Wisdom of God — the mirror, reflection, and image through which God creates the world. But this also implies the converse: the very light of God’s glory shines in the face of this crucified Messiah.
Yet what this text says about Jesus also says something about who become in him. Since the light of the gospel always entails both seeing and shining, we not only “behold” the image of God in the Messiah’s face, but also “reflect” its glory and in this way, likewise, mirror that shining as we encounter others’ faces. This is how we are transformed — indeed are “transfigured” — by the light of God shining in our hearts in the “face” of Jesus the Messiah.
But all this does not occur in some transcendent space, abstracted from our messy and all too human bodies and relationships. It takes place precisely as we share in the overflow of the Messiah’s sufferings for us — precisely as we too are “always carrying the death of Jesus in the body, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifest in our bodies… death in us, but life for you” (2 Corinthians 4:10-11). As in the ancient world, this confounds any “super-apostle” among us — or within us — who might be tempted to appropriate god-talk as a means to hide shame or disguise the distorted self-interest that uses others merely as pawns.