Trinity SundayJune 19, 2011
2 Cor 13: 11-13
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.
“Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13: 11).
Our 2d Scripture passage this morning is the conclusion of St. Paul’s 2d Letter to the Corinthians—the last verse of which, a blessing, you’ve often heard as the priest’s greeting at the beginning of Mass, as you did today.
Corinth is located at the head of a deep bay in southern Greece, on the neck of the isthmus between the northern mainland of the country and the large southern peninsula. So it was an important seaport and a crossroads—a very important commercial, social, and religious center.
The Christians of Corinth were ordinary people like us, except that most of them were converts to Christianity—from decadent pagan lives or, in some cases, from devoutly Jewish lives—whereas most of us were raised as followers of Jesus from birth; and the Corinthians lived in a very pagan, very immoral world renowned for its corruption—the Times Square, the Las Vegas, the Amsterdam of the Roman Empire—whereas our society and our culture shows much evidence of Judeo-Christian influences despite some strong currents of modern paganism.
Paul’s letters to these early Christians deal with a lot of problems, with doctrinal questions, with conflicts, with bad behavior. So we hear him commanding them to “mend their ways.”
Then he tells them, specifically, to encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace. This is the opposite of what so many of them have been doing. (Just read the 2 letters to the Corinthians in your New Testament.) It’s the opposite of what Paul prays that these friends of his will experience: God’s love, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, grace from Jesus Christ.
Thru the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God calls us into fellowship, into communion, with himself and with one another. He doesn’t call us to fault-finding, to arguments, to ego trips, to lies about one another, to exploiting one another. He doesn’t call us to indifference toward one another. God, after all, hasn’t been indifferent toward us, even tho we’re sinners—pretty ugly people sometimes (and I don’t mean ugly in a physical sense, like when you 1st get to the mirror in the morning). Indeed, what does St. John tell us about God today? That he “so loved the world”—which means us sinful people—“that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (3:16). God wants to save us! God loves us!
That’s why Paul can urge even the Corinthians (with all their faults and sins) to rejoice—to rejoice in God’s love, in the fellowship they share with God thru Jesus, thru the power of the Holy Spirit to help them change their sinful behavior, to mend their ways. God's word urges us today to rejoice for the same reason, in the same communion with God.
“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you” (13:12). So Paul signs off just before blessing his friends and disciples in Corinth.
“All the holy ones,” which most English versions translate as “All the saints,” refers to the Christians who are with Paul where he’s writing from; that appears to be Macedonia—perhaps Philippi or Thessalonica, where Paul had planted the faith before he reached Corinth. Every faithful flower of Jesus is a “holy one” or a “saint,” someone made holy by “the grace of Jesus Christ, God’s love, and fellowship with the Holy Spirit.” In fact, when he greeted the faithful of Corinth in the 1st verse of this letter, he greeted them, too, as “saints” or “holy ones.”
You and I, dear sisters and brothers, are God’s holy people. Yes, we’re sinners. But God’s grace comes to us in Jesus; the fellowship of the Holy Spirit cleanses our sins and draws us into communion with God! It’s God’s holiness, not our own, that we acknowledge—and that we strive to live up to.
In all cultures, including those of the ancient Near East, a kiss symbolizes affection, respect, and friendship between family members, friends, or members of the same group. People greet each other or say farewell with a kiss. In the liturgy we kiss sacred objects such as the altar, the book of the Gospels, relics—and in some rites, tho not the Roman Rite that we follow—we kiss our fellow worshipers at the sign of peace. In fact, those of you old enuf to remember the pre-Vatican II rite of Confirmation will remember that the bishop used to slap the one he’d just confirmed—a light slap, of course—which the sisters explained was a sign that we had to be ready to suffer as soldiers of Christ in battles against the evil in the world. In truth, tho, that “slap” was the feeble remnant of a kiss; it was a love tap such as you might give your child; it was a sign of peace—exactly what has replaced it in the post-Vatican II Confirmation rite, in which the bishop expressly wishes peace to the person he’s just confirmed.
Paul urges the Corinthians to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” There are in the Bible insincere kisses; the most notorious example is Judas’s kissing of Jesus as he betrays him. So a holy kiss in the Christian community, or any sign of peace and reconciliation and friendship, must 1st of all be sincere. Then, we all know that kisses are exchanged between lovers. These also can be signs of the deepest affection and commitment toward each other. Unfortunately, they can also be exploitative, like so much of the sexual expression in our culture (not that our culture is unique in that regard, not at all). A holy kiss, then, like any exchange between persons, is one that regards and respects the other person, not one that is self-gratifying, one that seeks to use another person for one’s own pleasure. Paul is urging the Christians of Corinth to be in peace and harmony with each other, and to treat one another with complete respect—ultimately, to treat one another as God’s holy people, people who belong to the Lord Jesus because the Holy Spirit dwells in them, people belonging intimately to the Father.