The apostle Paul almost always gives me heartburn. I realize that he never actually met Jesus in the flesh, yet he, of all the apostles and disciples, made as much, if not more, impact on the formation of the church than anyone other than Jesus himself.
For Paul, Jesus is an example for us because he was born of love, and his death was a gift of love as well. He did it for us. He became a human being like we are, yet he could do things that ordinary human beings are unable to do. I think that’s something that may be a little hard to understand, especially given the cruelty of his death, but without his death, there would have been no resurrection, and without the resurrection, there would be no hope for the rest of us.
Paul tells us to not look at one another merely from a human point of view. Then the question arises, how can we look at the human beings in any other way since we are human ourselves. I can’t look at someone like I would at my cat, or even as a totally different person than appears before me. Paul says even though we knew Christ from a human point of view, our view has now changed because we have seen his divinity. We are new creations by merely having been exposed to the stories, miracles, and parables of Jesus. As Jesus told us, we are to see things as God does, with love since the entire universe and beyond was created out of love.
Jesus preached reconciliation, even if it means seeing it through human eyes. The father of the prodigal son forgave his wayward offspring, much to the anger and dismay of his older sibling who had stayed at home and faithfully worked for his father. From that parable, we learn to see ourselves as the wayward sons (and daughters) of a parent who welcomes us back when we mess up and need to return home to get things sorted out and back on track. Yes, we may be like the older son who had the anger of self-righteousness because he had done what he was told while his brother went off and lived a dissolute life. Still, the father gave the older son a reason to forgive and reassurance that it had cost the elder son nothing except hurt feelings and extra work.
Paul informs us we are ambassadors of Christ. When ambassadors go out to their new posts, they find themselves facing new people, new situations, new customs. They must tread lightly not to offend or alarm the residents of the city or country to which they were sent. They have a message to bring to them. As ambassadors of Christ, we are charged to convey the message of love and forgiveness, peace and equality, care for the earth and its people in all its diversity. It’s a message the world sorely needs to hear now, just as it has been for millennia, and we are the ones charged with spreading it.
So back to Paul, who encourages us to live joyously in Christ, adoration of God, and reverence for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are not to see them as humans, but instead as what they are, which is God in God’s own manner and way. Being human is hard enough, and it requires some expansion of the mind and spirit to follow not just Paul’s words with the teachings of Jesus, the commandments of God, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. No matter how good we are, we can always be better. No matter how low we have sunk, we can still grow and rise upward. That’s pretty much Paul’s message, and an excellent topic to ponder.
Image Queen Elizabeth and the Ambassadors (ca. 1560). Artist: Levina Teerlinc, (1510/11520-1576). Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also estate manager and administrative assistant for Dominic, Phoebe, and Gandhi.