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Lenten Devotional: Mar 26

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Today’s Texts: Exodus 9:13-35; 2 Corinthians 4:1-2; Mark 10:32-45

Reflection on 2 Cor 4.1-2

Reading this passage is always poignant and powerful for me especially during Lent. The image of treasure placed in clay jars conveys a great paradox of the gospel and Christian life. The treasure in v. 7 refers to “the glory of Christ,” which is the content of the gospel in v. 4. We have this matchless glory of Christ, the gospel, in clay jars. In Greco-Roman world, clay jars were cheap and often unattractive and considered as fragile and disposable. Here the Apostle Paul is drawing a contrast between the (relative) worthlessness of the container and the invaluableness of its content. While the gospel treasure is priceless, the gospel messengers are insignificant in comparison. Hence, we contain this treasure in clay jars so that this extraordinary power of the gospel does not reside in us but belongs to God. It is precisely because we, the carriers of the gospel, are frail and weak, insignificant and unattractive, that people clearly recognize that the transforming power of the gospel is of God alone. It’s not about us but about God, we might say.

The catalog of hardships in vv. 8-9 illustrates how God’s power manifested in Paul’s life: “we are afflicted in every way but no crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Paul could endure these hardships not because of his personal virtues, strength or courage, but because of his utter dependence as a frail human being on the all-surpassing power of God.

Whenever hardships and sufferings hit us, they create cracks in our earthen vessels. Affliction hits us, despair hits us, persecution hits, us, crisis hits us, and disappointment hit us; those things hit the clay jars–pretty hard. However, there is a resiliency in the lives of those who carry the precious treasure of Christ, the treasure of God’s glory. Amazingly, our treasure, the glory of Christ, shines bright through those very cracks in our jars. As we experience brokenness through various trials, circumstances, and even mistakes, our brokenness and weakness becomes the vehicle through which God’s glory and power is revealed and mediated. As fragile and cracked vessels, we display Jesus Christ our Lord, not ourselves. History of Christianity is replete with remarkable testimonies of God’s people who could identify themselves as clay jars with Christ.

Paul brings this message home with the death and resurrection of Jesus in vv. 10-11: “[We] always carry in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.” It’s a paradox: we reveal the life of Christ when we carry the death of Christ, the cross. When we deny ourselves, carry our cross and follow him, we reveal the transforming power of Christ in our lives. In this Lent may we be moved and touched by this paradox again.

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Helen RheeHelen Rhee is Assistant Professor of Church History at Westmont College. She grew up in Seoul, South Korea, and then in Southern California, and developed respect and love for history since childhood. She earned her B.A in History at UC Berkeley and her M.Div. and Ph.D. at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. Prior to coming to Westmont in 2004, she has served as pastor of a local church (Buena Park, CA) for a number of years. Helen specializes in early Christian history, especially the second and third century Christian literature, focusing on the diverging Christian self- identities in relation to Greco-Roman culture and society. Her recent book, Early Christian Literature: Christ and Culture in the Second and Third Centuries (Routledge Early Church Monographs, 2005), explores the very issue. Her scholarly interest, however, extends to other periods and aspects of Christian history as well. Helen is currently writing a book on early Christian attitudes toward and practices of wealth and poverty and how these contributed to shaping Christian identities within larger Greco-Roman and Jewish contexts.

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