Thursday of Week 11 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11:1-11

In our last three readings from 2 Corinthians we enter a final section of the Letter where Paul vigorously defends his credentials against people who have been criticising him. There is a unity in these chapters which suggest they may originally have been part of a separate letter. They consist of an apologia by Paul, defending his way of acting and his ministry. The language is highly emotional and very strongly expressed in parts. In the central part, there is a very emphatic statement on his credentials to be an apostle.

As he did in the early part of the letter (which we saw last week), Paul continues defending his record with the Corinthians, though in much stronger terms. Today’s reading is relatively mild.

He begins by appealing to the Corinthians to put up with his foolishness, which, he feels does not disqualify him from being an evangeliser. Just before this he had said:

It is not the one who recommends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord recommends. (Cor 10:18)

Clearly, he feels that he has this mandate unlike those others he is criticising, who do not have such a mandate and yet whom the Corinthians seem to tolerate.

He feels like a jealous parent or matchmaker:

I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

The “jealousy of God” reminds one of the prophets who describe God as being jealous when his people dally with other gods and who would try to take his covenant people away from him. Where the relationship between God and his people is likened to a marriage, where Israel is Yahweh’s bride.

Similarly, Paul, like a father, has betrothed the Corinthian community to Christ as his bride. But they are now dallying with teachers who are not true matchmakers and who will not lead them to their true Spouse, Christ.

But, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning of the serpent, Paul is afraid the Corinthians are being seduced from a sincere and pure commitment to Christ and are becoming unfaithful to their marriage with Christ. For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one Paul and his companions gave them, or if they receive a different spirit from the one they originally received or a different gospel from the one they first accepted, they seem to be quite ready to go along with it. Those “other preachers” are seen as doing the seductive work of Satan and the Corinthians are flirting with teachings which are not part of the tradition which Paul gave to them.

But Paul feels that he is in no way inferior to what he calls “super-apostles”. They seem to be people who have come from outside and regarded by Paul as intruders. They also seem to have won support from at least some of the community and this may be because, compared to Paul, they were much more persuasive as speakers and orators. It is possible that they had appealed to the authority of the church leaders in Jerusalem and even had letters of recommendation from them. The church in Jerusalem was very Jewish and it may not have understood the very different conditions prevailing in the pluralist situation in Corinth, where Jews and Gentiles formed one community.

They seem, in fact, to be the same kind of people who were causing so much trouble among the Christians of Galatia, where there were movements to restore observance of the Jewish Law not only among Jewish Christians, but even among Gentiles as well. The fact that, in tomorrow’s reading, Paul strongly affirms his own credentials as a Jew indicates that these ‘super apostles’ belonged to this group.

However, Paul is not attacking the Jerusalem leaders, whose authority and credentials he acknowledges. He is rather attacking the ‘super-apostle’ intruders who are not like the ‘pillars’, the ‘foundation stones’ in Jerusalem but are self-appointed. They see themselves as superior to Paul as apostles and ministers, and this may be strengthened by the good reception they have received from at least some of the Corinthian community. For Paul, however, they are “false apostles”, seductive ministers of Satan masquerading as apostles.

The intruders are ‘super-apostles’ not in the sense of the ‘pillars’ at Jerusalem but in their own estimation. They consider themselves superior to Paul as apostles and ministers of Christ, and they are obviously enjoying some success among the Corinthians. Paul rejects their claim to be apostles in any superlative sense (hyperlian), judging them bluntly as “false apostles”, ministers of Satan masquerading as apostles of Christ. On the contrary, as we will see in tomorrow’s reading, Paul himself will claim to be a super-minister of Christ on the basis of his record.

When it comes to proclaiming the Gospel, Paul admits that he may not be as good a speaker as they are, but he yields nothing to them in knowledge (perhapst this is the weakness, the distressing ‘sting of the flesh’ he mentions later on). And he has made this clear to the Corinthians “in every way”. In other words, in all their contacts with him, he has been passing on to them the Word of God which has been revealed to him. Even in his life experiences, the death and life of Jesus are being revealed. His opponents can make no such claim.

Paul now moves to another reason for complaints against him – his custom of preaching without any remuneration.

Did I make a mistake… because I preached the Gospel of God to you without charge?

Did that make him look like a freelancing amateur? One feels there is an element of sarcasm here and perhaps a jibe at his opponents who may have expected “fees” for their work.

He preached without remuneration because his expenses were covered by other churches he had already evangelised. He says he even “plundered” other churches by accepting help from them in order to give his services free to the Corinthians. And, when he was among them and in material need, he asked nothing from the Corinthians. Members of Christian communities in Macedonia came down all the way to Corinth to take care of Paul’s needs. He refrained then, and he will continue to refrain from burdening them now.

He say:

By the truth of Christ in me, this boast of mine shall not be silenced in the regions of Achaia.

Achaia is the province in the south of Greece in which Corinth was situated.

And why will he do that? Because he does not love them? “God knows I do!” Surely his desire not to burden them in any way is proof enough of that. He rejects any lack of affection as his motive (possibly imputed to him by his opponents) and states his real motive, which is to emphasise the disparity between himself and the others.

Paul’s experience has been repeated many times in the history of the Church (and of other churches). People are often only too eager to hear some novel message, some new way of explaining the Gospel, especially if it is accompanied by a lot of razzmatazz.

The same goes for some devotional movements in the Catholic Church today which attract large numbers of people, but which are not true to the core message of Christ – the establishment of the Kingdom.

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