My Catholic Biblical School class is currently knee-deep in our study of the Pauline letters (that means we’ve only made it through Thessalonians and Corinthians!). Reading St. Paul plunges us into something that is simultaneously transcendent and down-to-earth, mystical and practical, inspiring and instructive. This tension – which Paul maintains with every stroke of the pen – deftly delivers something that modern readers find elusive in their own lives: the integration of “real life” and “the spiritual life.” Remember, Paul was first and foremost a missionary, secondly a pastor (a shepherd), and only thirdly a theologian. What Paul wrote, he wrote for a purpose – for real people facing real problems, for Christian communities struggling just like our communities do today. His theology emerged from “real life.”
The Second Letter to the Corinthians is one of my favorite Pauline books. In it we witness Paul’s passion for the Gospel, his love for his people, his zeal, his temper, his sense of humor and his creativity. The book also provides rich examples of Paul’s theology presented in the context of “real life” situations. One such example is found in 2 Cor. 1:15-24. Here Paul is offering a bit of self-defense: the Corinthian community was apparently miffed with him because he did not visit them as he had planned. They accused him of vacillating, of being unreliable. Paul heard about this and wanted to address it. He wanted to assure them that he changed his mind for a reason, not simply on a whim or because he cared little for the community.
In this situation, most of us would simply write, “I did not come because ____.” But it’s almost as though Paul can’t stop thinking about, writing about, teaching about Jesus Christ! For him, Christ is the foundation of all things, the answer to all things. And so his explanation of why he did not visit Corinth becomes yet another opportunity to teach about the goodness of God in Christ Jesus:
“Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to ordinary human standards, ready to say ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’ at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been ‘Yes and No.’ For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you…was not ‘Yes and No’; but in him it is always ‘Yes.’ For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen’, to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 1:17-20).
We can see how Paul’s self-defense quickly flows into an account of God’s own faithfulness. Paul does not vacillate weakly between “yes” and “no” – for he is a follower of Jesus Christ, who does not vacillate; he believes in a God who keeps every promise!
One verse from this section really struck me as I studied it this year. It's just like St. Paul to put all the pieces together with a statement like this:
“In [Jesus Christ] every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes’” (2 Cor. 1:20a).
Would it be going too far to say that this verse sums up all of Scripture? It is surely a verse worth memorizing, a verse worth imprinting on our hearts. As we enter this New Year, may we take comfort in the faithfulness of our God, remembering that in Jesus Christ, every one of God’s promises – to his people, to his Church, to our families, to each one of us – is an emphatic “Yes!” And following Paul’s example, let us remember how deep we can go, and how profound our knowledge of Christ can be, even in the midst of real life.