2 Corinthians 6:1-10
To understand the wisdom behind the selection of readings, step backward two thousand years into the community of believers situated in Corinth. Corinth was a major city of trade, commerce, and was a melting pot of various beliefs and traditions. Several famous pagan temples were situated there and traffic going to and from such areas was probably fairly high. Paul makes at least three trips to Corinth in his ministry, and the fact that we have two letters addressed to the Corinthians in our New Testament is proof alone that Paul had strong feelings, both negative and positive, about the believers that resided there. This second letter was addressed in the hopes of resolving problems within the community of believers that had not been resolved with his first letter.
Corinth’s believers had faced many different types of challenges in the face of "afflictions, hardships, constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, and labors." Paul’s letter is an encouragement to the Corinthians to remain strong by the grace of the Holy Spirit which dwells within their community of believers. It is also an invitation to deepen their lives by realizing that, by this grace of Spirit, their lives are radically different. They are dying yet alive, sorrowful yet rejoicing, having nothing yet possessing everything…they need to take this message of grace and no longer be passive-they need to be active participants in what God is doing in their community.
Does this community sound any different from our own?
Jump backward a couple more years and listen to the words that are spoken to Matthew’s community from today’s Gospel reading. This passage from the famous, "Sermon on the Mount" is often used to advocate nonviolent retribution. Yet Jesus’ words are reaching a community of people separated from their Jewish sisters and brothers. These new "Christians" are struggling to find their identity amidst persecution and hardship. The invitation they are receiving from Jesus is similar to what Paul extends to the Corinthians: do not live the same life that you led before. Go two miles instead of one. Offer your cloak as well as your tunic.
What comes from the Spirit at Pentecost and baptism is not a transformation that leaves us entirely different people than we were before. If this was to happen, there would be no room for us to witness this active Spirit participating in our lives. What does come from the Spirit is an invitation to transformation. Just like in the communities of Corinth and Matthew, every opportunity for both growth and recession that was there before Lent, Easter and Pentecost is still present in our community today. It’s still "ordinary", and it hasn’t changed; we have. We are challenged to answer this invitation to be different by recalling that it is in these everyday circumstances of our lives that we are called to bring God to others. It is in encountering the people around us that we find God, and we see that though we are dying we live, though we are sad we rejoice, and we find the strength to go two miles instead of one.
Set aside some time to thank the Spirit for this day of opportunity for growth in the midst of challenge. Is there a place you feel you are being challenged more than others? How so? How do you intend to respond to this call?
Sandy Santacruz is a young volunteer at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center in Citrus Heights, California.