Nobody likes getting stood up. Usually, with a self-devised set of criteria, we decide if the offender’s reason is legitimate or if we have a right to be mad. An emergency? Of course we understand. Duty? Sure. Still, part of our judgment calculus includes how avoidable we imagine it was, the person’s habits and history and so on. But who gets a pass for making a commitment and then not showing up because one simply changed one’s mind? Nobody.
This is what some Corinthians are saying about Paul. Among Paul’s many detractors were those in Corinth who leveled an additional charge against him: He’s a flake. Paul was traveling to Macedonia (northern Greece) and promised to visit the Corinthians both on his way there and back (1 Cor 16:6-7). But he didn’t show up at all. They had been stood up.
Our second reading is part of Paul’s response to this charge. By the end of the letter (2 Cor 11-12) Paul assures them that he is just as good as the “superapostles” (11:5, 11) and recounts his commitment, sufferings and even personal mysticism in response. His letter seems to be asking, “Does this letter sound like that of a flake?” Paul’s direct answer at the beginning of the letter is to say that he chose to delay coming until hurt feelings about him were healed. He certainly did not want to feed community conflict.
This is the background to our lectionary reading, which is at heart a beautiful mini-treatise of profound Trinitarian theology (albeit a grammatical nightmare) occasioned by the misunderstanding. Paul writes, “As God is faithful, our word to you is not ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ For the Son of God…was not ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ but ‘yes’ has been in him.” Paul’s yes to the Corinthians, and indeed to his whole ministry, is an absolute yes, because it is grounded in Christ, the absolute Lord.
Then Paul focuses on the Father: “For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him [Christ]; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory.” So, even as Paul’s promises are grounded in Christ, so are the Father’s. And our Amen, our affirmation of faith, redounds to the glory of God through this same Christ, the “one mediator between God and the human race” (1 Tm 2:5).
Finally, Paul assures us that this same Father who has secured us in Christ both claimed us and has given us the Holy Spirit: “He has also put his seal upon us and given us the Spirit in our hearts.” The life of the Spirit is both fruit and evidence of the eternal yes that we live.
In what amounts to four sentences, Paul reorients the Corinthians—and us—to see what is really going on. It is not a question about whether his excuse is adequate or even less whether he is a flake. Rather, Paul’s coming or not coming or his challenging them or praising them means nothing. The real issue is seeing how our yes participates in the Father’s yes, with Christ binding us to God and to one another. If we are utterly bound together in Christ, and if we share the same life in the Spirit, then there should be no question of judgment or suspicions, only deep love and shared spiritual joy. Paul is saying to them, “This is how I’m relating to you, and this is how you should be relating to me and to each other.”
Embracing Paul’s vision does not mean that we should not hold each other accountable. We do not have a free pass to stand others up. Rather, Paul challenges us to see the deep truths that bind us together and to live out of those truths. Paul invites us to see how we can realize our recreation in the Son, living with him as Lord, brother, lover and Word, who holds in himself the eternal promises of the Father. Paul calls us to truly see each other, looking through momentary attractions and aversions, and to discover a shared life in the Spirit.
I am glad Paul missed his appointment.