17 Jun Friday of Week Eleven
2 Cor 11:18ff. In desperation, Paul succumbs to boasting about his great trials in the ministry, including “my anxiety for all the churches.”
Matthew 6:19ff. Do not lay up earthly treasure where moths and rust corrode. If your vision is bad, your whole self will be in darkness.
Something to Boast About
Today’s words from the Sermon on the Mount touch on a problem we instinctively feel about Paul’s boasting and the moral collapse which follows inflated ambition (*2). Jesus puts it bluntly: “Do not lay up for yourselves an earthly treasure. Moths and rust corrode… Instead, store up heavenly treasure…. If your vision is bad, you will be in darkness. And if your light is darkness, how deep the darkness will be.”
Poor Paul is caught up in a confusing whirlwind of boasting. “Since many are bragging… , I too will boast,” he says, with some embarassment. Yet his boasting mostly is about failures, disappointment and rejection. When drawn into the boasting game, he can brag only of his suffering. Yet, in this he leads the people to place their confidence in the power of the Spirit. Paul’s eloquent bragging is not really an attempt to lay up earthly treasures, for he hopes to direct people towards the true source of any real strength that we have. His way of handling the false claims of others turns out to be such a delicate balance that it is difficult to imitate. Its value for us is enormous, nonetheless, as it enables us to reconstruct Paul’s personal biography and to have a rare insight into the personality of this genial saint.
A tragic situation is seen in Second Kings (*2). Here is a woman driven by ambition to murder her own step-children in order to seize the Jerusalem throne. She then attempts to secure her place by corrupting the morals of the people, for if they are as bad as she is, they will welcome the changed opportunity for luxurious living, the sensuous fertility rites and sacred prostitution in the Baal temple she has built. Yet the innate goodness of the people wins the day, and seven years later the single royal son who escaped Athaliah’s slaughter is acclaimed as king. The high priest solemnizes a covenant between king and people, based on religious fidelity and popular justice. The house built upon ambitious boasting collapsed on Athaliah – an example of Jesus’ words that moths and rust corrode the strength and security of such false constructions.
Other words of Jesus may provide more practical advice. He advises us to have a “good eye,” filled with light and so able to see goodness and light in the actions and hearts of others. Rather than be annoyed by their faults and idiosyncrasies, our “good eye” ought to recognize the good side of them. We should commend them for their virtues, not condemn them for their vices, and not imitate them in bragging or boasting. But if we must brag, let it be about the grace of God that helps us in whatever are our weaknesses, failures or moments of rejection.(1) 2 Co 11:18, 21-30since many boast according to human standards, I will also boast. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!
But whatever anyone dares to boast of-I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman – I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not eak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Gospel: Matthew 6:19-23
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!