Summary: Year C. 4th Sunday of Lent March 25th, 2001 2Corinthians 5: 16-21
Year C. 4th Sunday of Lent March 25th, 2001 2Corinthians 5: 16-21
Title: “Reconciliation with God”
Paul has met with opposition from Christians preaching and or living a gospel of their own making or, at least, a revision of the one “handed down.” He considers those folks to be mere “peddlers” or “panhandlers” of a hybrid gospel, no gospel at all. Even his own authority as an apostle has been challenged. He truly feels the persecution which Christ himself predicted of his followers. Nonetheless, Paul keeps his eye on the ball and remains focused. Here he writes of the essence of the gospel, namely, reconciliation. He spreads this message through word and example and admonishes all Christians to do likewise.
Like so many memorable passages in this letter, this one, intended primarily as a defense of Paul’s ministry, has become one of those known as the “gospel in a nutshell.”
In verse seventeen, “new creation,”a fundamental point of Paul’s perspective is that the cross and resurrection of Jesus is the dividing line between two ages, eons, periods of history, dimensions of reality. One can live “according to the flesh,” that is, the life one has inherited from one’s natural parents or “according to the Spirit,” that is, the life one has received in, from, as a result of Christ. The Christian co-exists in both of these dimensions for now, the heavenly compared to the earthly, the permanent compared to the transient, the new compared to the old. Thus, the Christian must live with a certain tension between the two. The ‘old” creation has passed away, but not quite and the “new” has come to pass, but not fully.
In verse eighteen, “God…has reconciled us to himself through Christ,” “reconciliation” translates a Greek word, katallasso, not found much in Scripture. It is a combination of the preposition, kata, “according to, accordingly,” and the verb, allasso, “to change,” “to make other than what it is.” Katallasso, means “ to exchange,” “to reconcile.” In the middle voice in Greek it means “to re-unite, get back together, as in a marriage after separation- the word for which is from the same root, apallassthai). It differs from forgiveness, which is one-way, in that it is mutual, two-way. A person cannot be reconciled with someone who refuses to be so. Because of and through the agency of Christ God has chosen to ignore our sin and relate to us once again. This is so different that it is truly “new.”
“And given us the ministry of reconciliation,” Certainly, this applies to Paul, but also to all of us who claim to be Christians. “Ministry” translates the Greek, logos, which means, “word,” referring primarily, but not exclusively, to preaching. However, he clearly means this for all Christians. What else would Christians do if they did not share this new status with others who are willing? They share it because God wants them to. Christ died for all. All may not accept the offer, but those who do join in the benefits of the offering of Christ for their sins. All Christians can imitate Paul and obey Christ by behaving in such a way that others also want to be put right with God.
Verse nineteen repeats the thought in verse eighteen. This is not a change of feelings but a change of status before God, who simply out of mercy decides to wipe out human guilt because of the obedience of Jesus. He declares amnesty. Verse twenty, “ambassadors for Christ,” even though we are in Christ, we are not Christ, only his representatives. “We represent, on Christ’s behalf…” is the literal meaning.
“We implore you…be reconciled to God,” this is a version of Paul’s basic moral teaching, “Become what you are.” One cannot bring reconciliation or bring one to reconciliation with God unless one is first reconciled with him. Christians are to be, in reality- even on the earthly plane- what they profess to be-on the heavenly one. On earth this is an ongoing process, even though it is a done deal in heaven.
Verse twenty-one, “for our sakes he made him to be sin who did not know sin,” the word “sin” here has two different senses. The first use means “sin-offering.” It is used in the sense of Isaiah
53:10, the Suffering Servant, who is made or makes himself a sacrificial offering in behalf of the benefit of others, a vicarious sin-offering to atone for or make amends for, the sins of others. The second sense, in “who did not know sin,” means real sin, those committed by humans. Jesus did not “know” that kind of behavior in the Hebraic sense of “know,” by personal experience with and first-hand knowledge of it.
“So that we might become the righteousness of God in him,” the structure of this argument is simple; Christ became human, minus personal sin, that we might become divine, minus identity or equality with God. Humans as sinners are now given a right status, a right relationship, reconciliation before God through the righteous one, the one who always had it and never lost it, who absorbed our sins within his sinlessness.