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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + September 21, 2016

II Corinthians 13:3-13
Mark 4:35-41

II Corinthians 13:3-13 (NKJV)
Since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you. For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete. Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction. Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

Mark 4:35-41 (NKJV)
On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side." Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!" And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!"

Commentary 

In the Roman world, though there were vast numbers of gods and divine beings worshiped from cultures all over the then known world, there were three primary deities: Jupiter (Zeus), Neptune (Poseidon), and Pluto (Hades). These three pagan deities, Jupiter the eldest, were considered to be brothers, and sons of the titans, the primordial gods who had rules before in pre-human history. Each of the three rules over part of the cosmos. Jupiter was a storm god who ruled the skies. Neptune ruled the oceans. Pluto ruled over the underworld, the realm of the dead. Within inhabited Greco-Roman cities, each of these three had their own domain. The acropolis, the center and highest point of the city from which governors ruled was the place of Jupiter, the ports were the zone of Neptune, and the bazaars, shops, and other mercantile areas belonged to Pluto. Most of the other well-known Greco-Roman gods were thought to be the children of Jupiter and one of his wives or countless mistresses, human and otherwise.

For the Greco-Roman pagan world, this is where power lay, with these beings. One worshipped them in order to become like them. So sacrifices would be offered to Pluto in order to ensure the success of particular business dealings, or in general wealth and success. Sacrifices would be offered to Neptune for safe travel by sea and peaceful coastal weather. Sacrifices would be offered to Jupiter and his children to receive power, beauty, maintain youth, find love, physical strength and athletic prowess, wisdom, skill, and so on. The greatest among them, such as the Caesars, could hope to ascend into the heavens upon their deaths and become gods themselves. Today's readings from Holy Scripture offer us another report. In today's Gospel, we read of a great storm that comes upon the Sea of Galilee while Christ and His Disciples are in a boat crossing it. In the midst of the storm, with the boat taking on water, the Disciples realize that no only is Jesus not helping them bail water out of the boat, but that He is peacefully asleep.

The disciples, of course, ask Jesus how He can sleep at a time like this. Their implication is that He is sleeping because He doesn't care about what happens to them. This accusation should ring familiar, it is the same one leveled against God by their forefathers again and again as Moses led them through the wilderness, that God had led them out into the desert to die. And the disciples receive the same reply that their forefathers did, as Jesus demonstrates the power of God by silencing the wind and the waves with a command. The reaction of the Disciples, that they became more afraid of Jesus than they had been of drowning in the storm, shows us just how awesome this display of power was to His followers. For their forefathers, the great rival to the God of Israel had been Baal, a storm god whose greatest and most celebrated exploit was his defeat of Yam, the god-monster of the sea. For their pagan neighbors in their very day, two of the three greatest divine powers were associated with the storm and the sea (and Christ would defeat Hades soon enough). That a man could not only control the physical air and water, but could overpower the spiritual powers that lay behind them was something that they could not fathom. It meant that this man must be God Himself incarnate.

Though the Christians of the church in Corinth had been called upon to leave their pagan lives behind them, their way of thinking was still informed by pagan sensibilities. Because of this, St. Paul spends most of his Second Epistle to the Corinthians having to defend himself and his role and status as an Apostle. The Corinthians were still used to thinking of power and success in terms of this world, and not in terms of the Kingdom. Other teachers and preachers were coming to them who were far more dynamic than St. Paul. These 'super apostles' were better speakers, more clever, presented themselves in a way that appealed, culturally, to these former pagans, and most importantly, preached to them a message that they wanted to hear, about power and prestige in this life. Compared to what they were being presented, or even the pagan world out of which they had come, shabby, bent St. Paul and his struggling little communities scattered around the Empire, made up mostly of women and slaves, seemed rather weak and pathetic.

St. Paul responds by reminding the Corinthian Christians again and again who Christ is. Christ possessed the power and authority of the God who created the universe even while He hung, suffering and dying, upon the Cross outside of Jerusalem. The proof of this is that it was that power which raised Him from the dead, the one enemy that none of the pagan gods even claimed to have conquered. And it is that same power, which raised Jesus Christ from the dead, that could calm the storm and the seas, that could make the blind to see and the lame to walk, that could also call forth Lazarus from his tomb...that same power, in the person of the Holy Spirit, was now dwelling within St. Paul and within every Christian. No matter how shameful or frail Christians, or the Church as a whole ever appeared to be, the power that called the universe into being lay within.

Furthermore, this power was not some kind of 'force' to be manipulated in order to get the good things in this world which pass away. Rather, it is God Himself dwelling within us, and seeking to bring us to perfection in Christ. While paganism promised that a handful of the great and powerful on this earth might someday have some sort of afterlife in the spiritual world amongst the spiritual powers, Christianity promises that any human person, from the least to the greatest in the sight of this world, can through Christ come to know, experience, and be one with the only true God, maker of the heavens and the earth, all-powerful and almighty. By chasing after the glories of this world, and those who claimed to offer them, and the spiritual powers that manipulated it, the Corinthians were, in fact, settling for far, far less than was their inheritance in Christ. They were in danger of giving up everything for a glory that fades like mist in the morning. Away from this poor exchange, St. Paul calls each and every one of us, back to the God who created us, who loves us, and who was willing to die for us, so that sharing in His weakness, we can also come, one day, to experience His power.

Questions to Ponder

  1. In today's epistle reading, St. Paul makes it clear what his purposes are. Whatever authority, power, and gifts God has given him, he intends to use them for the sake of the believers in Corinth. God has given every one of us gifts. How do you put your gifts and abilities and the wisdom God has given you over the course of your life to work? Do you use them primarily to try to build yourself a kingdom in this world? Do you use them to gain money and possessions for yourself? Do you use them to bring attention and honor to yourself? Or do you, to the contrary, offer them back to God by using them to build up and assist others?
  2. In today's epistle, St. Paul twice speaks about the Corinthians pressing on, in the power of God, to become complete or perfect. This shows that he sees salvation not as something that occurs at one point in a person's life, marking him as in or out of the Kingdom. Rather, St. Paul sees salvation as something which has a definite beginning, but then has a goal, for a person to become like Christ through becoming one with Him until that day on which we see Him. The Christian life is therefore not about behaving a little better, but about gradually becoming one of the saints. Do you see your salvation as still being a work in progress? Do you press on, and expend real work and effort in confession, repentance, and pursuing good works? Or do you go to church now and then to check the box that you went, so you'll make it to heaven and not hell?
  3. Christ has not only said, but has demonstrated publicly that He has all power in the heavens and on the earth. Do you believe that this is true? If it is true, and you have been baptized into Christ, and are following Christ, what do you have to fear or to worry about? What are some things that you waste time worrying about, either spiritual (in heaven) or material (on this earth) which should be better trust to Jesus as our King?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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