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The Full Backstory

The Full Backstory

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 – Holy Week, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 55 (morning) // 74 (evening)

Lamentations 2:1-9

2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11

Mark 11:12-25

When a politician resigns, when an executive steps down, when a church leader departs, or when a personal relationship disintegrates, the rest of us are often itching to hear the fully backstory. Perhaps we’re partially motivated by a taste for drama and gossip. But we’re probably also led by a deep desire to understand the forces that can break human beings and human relationships that once seemed so strong and stable. Usually, we’re left without a satisfying explanation, let alone a true one.

Unfortunately for our curious minds, the backstory of Paul’s conflict with the Christians at Corinth has probably been lost forever. Apparently, Paul had returned to visit the community he’d founded, but someone there insulted him or caused him pain. Paul had also planned a subsequent visit, but after his very painful visit, he decided to cancel his next trip and to send in his place a letter written “out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears.” Paul worried that a further visit would only cause more pain and misunderstanding.

We don’t know exactly what the offender did to hurt Paul so badly. Also, Paul’s tearful letter has not survived, so we don’t know how he expressed his sadness. All we know is that Paul was susceptible to being hurt deeply, and that he was not afraid to pour out his heart.

From today’s second reading, we also see how sensitive Paul is to the pain of others. He’s aware of the ways that his personal presence might increase the community’s pain. He understands his mission as the shared pursuit of joy, not as the increase of pain. He and his fellow missionaries should be “workers with you for your joy,” not people who “lord it over your faith.”

Further, this reading shows that Paul has a deep concern for the person who insulted him, and who now seems to be ostracized by the community. Paul urges the Corinthians to suspend their punishment of the offender and to instead forgive and console him, “so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” What an extraordinary heart Paul has–to infer from his own experience of pain and separation that he should make an appeal to spare someone else from overwhelming sadness and isolation.

When it comes to the collapse of institutions, communities, families, and friendships, we almost never get the full backstory. Instead, we get bits and pieces of surviving documents, of allegations, and of gossip. The Scripture also doesn’t give us all the details of the conflict or the private correspondence between Paul and the Corinthians. However, the Scripture gives us what matters: a glimpse into a heart that is woundable, expressive, and concerned not just for its own pain but for the healing of others.

May all such hearts be all that survives from the conflicts, controversies, and scandals that we consign to the rubble of history and the compost of daily life.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


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