Monday of Week 10 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 1:1-7

Today we return to the New Testament and begin reading from the second letter of St Paul to the Christians of the city of Corinth in southern Greece. When we were reading the Acts of the Apostles earlier during the Easter season, we saw how Paul had failed dismally in Athens, but that he had done much better in Corinth. According to the Jerusalem Bible’s “Introduction to St Paul”:

“Corinth was not only a great centre of hellenism and a magnet to every sort of philosophy and religion, it was also a notorious centre of immorality; it was a milieu that could only create awkward problems for those newly converted to a faith that had only recently been introduced.”

It is believed by some commentators that Paul wrote a total four letters to the Corinthians, but they (or parts of them) have been condensed into the two we now have. This letter was probably written from Macedonia, in northern Greece, in the year 57 AD. It is clear that this letter is dealing with serious problems Paul was having with the Corinthian community. They do not seem to be happy with him, and he does not seem to be happy with them. At the same time, the letter produces some of the loveliest thoughts of Paul, and reveal his strong emotional side. He was a person of very strong feelings. It is quite different in content and tone from the First Letter.

Today’s passage is the opening greeting and comes from both Paul and his fellow-missionary, Timothy. It is addressed not only to the Christians in Corinth itself but also to those in the surrounding province of Achaia:

Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This lovely greeting has been happily incorporated into our own liturgies.

The opening then follows the usual Pauline form, except that the thanksgiving takes the form of a doxology or glorification of God

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.

Paul expands a standard Jewish blessing so as to introduce the central theme of his prayer. The theme of ‘comfort’ or ‘consolation’ (Greek paraklesis) occurs no less than 10 times in this short passage against a background formed by multiple references to “affliction” and “suffering”.

It is from this term that we have the word ‘Paraclete’ (Parakletes) or ‘Comforter’ used by Jesus to describe the Holy Spirit. It is a word which combines the meanings of comforter, consoler, supporter, advocate, encourager and the like. It was, for instance, also a term used for a lawyer who stands by you in a court case.

The passage is a deeply prayerful meditation on the experience of both suffering and comfort shared by both Paul and the Corinthians, and drawn, at least in part, from Paul’s reflections on a recent affliction or hardship. He describes this painful experience in the passage immediately following but it is not included in our reading. He says:

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction that came upon us in the [Roman] province of Asia; we were utterly weighed down beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life…God rescued us from such great danger of death, and he will continue to rescue us… (verses 8-10)

What Paul is saying to the Corinthians is that God, through Jesus, is the source of all comfort and consolation in every affliction we can experience. And it is an encouragement which we, in our turn, should pass on to others who are similarly afflicted. For, just as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us for our benefit, in the same way through Christ, our encouragement is to overflow to others.

The Father of compassion is the Father of our Lord Jesus; Paul’s sufferings and “comfort” are experiences in union with Christ. The “consolation” and “comfort” of Israel is Jesus himself, as we read in Luke’s account of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:25).

So, when Paul and his companions suffer (for whatever reason), it is to bring the Corinthians encouragement and salvation and that, in turn, enables Paul and his companions to accept their sufferings. This is an important lesson for all of us. Sufferings are not simply negative experiences; they can be a source of encouragement for others. Others can benefit from our sufferings.

Paul concludes by saying,

Our confidence in you is firm, for we know that as we share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.

The terrible sufferings of Jesus on the Cross brought so much to the world and to each one of us who believe in him. We might call this ‘creative’ or ‘redemptive’ suffering, for some pain is without meaning and is purely destructive.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matt 5:4)

The lesson of the reading is that we, for our part, should become comforters and consolers of others in their difficulties and sorrows. And, in doing so, we may have to endure some suffering ourselves. But it is a pain that brings, not destruction, but healing.

As Christ’s comforting overflows into us, so should ours overflow from us to reach out to others. Paul even goes further to say that the sufferings he has borne for his faith in Jesus Christ should be a source of comfort and strength for the Christians of Corinth, and that in turn is a source of comfort for them when they themselves undergo hardships for their faith.

Suffering for the faith is itself paradoxically a kind of comfort and consolation.

Blessed are you when they insult and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me.

It is those last three words which give a positive meaning to an apparently very contradictory statement. It is a grace to be ready to suffer for the Gospel of Truth and Love and Justice.

It is – as many Christians have proved through the ages – a source of real joy. Because it means an even closer identification with the suffering, dying – and rising Lord.

If we ever find ourselves in a situation where we are under criticism for being Christian, we might call to mind these words of Paul.

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