Letters Written on the Heart

In 2nd Corinthians Paul’s Good News is one that he and his assistants like Titus, carry with them within their hearts. The witness to life in Christ that they preach is not written in stone. Of course, this is the reference to the Ten Commandments written on the stone tablets that Moses brought down the mountain to reveal to the people waiting there. Once more Paul sets his message against the message of the Hebrew Scriptures, the religious text of his Jewish upbringing. If we haven’t read or know about the texts that are alluded to here, we may miss a layer of meaning that Paul’s audience, especially the Jewish-Christians, would know. It is the contrast between what for Paul is dead, the old order of the Law (Torah) and the new order in Christ (the Good News).
Just like we often picture God as some old whited bearded man in a long white toga, until now I imagined Paul to look like some crusty old guy, with a long beard and a fierce look upon his face, weather and travel weary. But doing the math Paul would have been in his mid-twenties when he had his experience of the risen Lord on the Damascus Road. However powerful that experienced was, and Paul himself attests over and over to the force and impact of that encounter with the risen Jesus, he did not get automatically zapped with knowledge of the message he was meant to preach. No veil was lifted from his eyes so that he immediately saw the whole of the gospel. For a time he was blinded by the experience. He was taken to Asia where he studied and reflected on his new calling. It would be Barnabas who would come and retrieve him to begin their work of converting the Gentiles to Christ.
So Paul was a relatively young man when he began to further the cause of Christ. That would explain his stamina in the face of his travels and sheer force of will that runs through all his letters. It may also explain why he was and remained unmarried. At the beginning of this letter to Corinth, we see once more the eloquence of a young man with a heart on fire for the Lord. And it is this metaphor of the heart that he uses to send this greeting to the converts at Corinth. But it is not just a metaphor. For in his heart and the hearts of those who are within the sound of his voice and words, the affection and intensity for God’s glory as it shines on the face of Christ, is something real, tangible and lived. Surely this way of viewing the word of God derives from his own encounter with the living Jesus on the Damascus Road.
For Paul it is the Spirit of the living God who has written on the people’s hearts the introduction and commendation that is part of his letters. In fact, what he is saying is that he does not need letters in ink or words on stone, for you are yourselves our letter, written in our/your hearts, that anybody can see and read, and it is plain that you are a letter from Christ…written on the tablets of your living hearts. This is not a message chiseled on stone, it is not brittle, hard and, like the first stone tablets, it will not break. Their lives again show forth the Christ that they carry in their hearts and is visible in their lives for all to see. In his heart Paul carries the ‘letter from Christ’, within him and it burns passionately in this young man who has turned all his energies toward knowing and spreading the Word of the love of Christ for everyone, not only the Hebrew people. Paul and Titus’ work is like incense rising, the knowledge of himself (Christ) like a sweet smell. Perfume spreading about the knowledge of Christ.
Tell me this man is not a realistic romantic who carries in his head and heart a new Love, a new covenant, the new relationship and way of being with God, now a living word, etched there, and pouring out from the Spirit of Christ. His faith shines out from an unveiled face, to reveal the glory of God in Christ and Paul’s own passion written on his sleeve for all the world to see. A young Moses leading the people to the promise, the promise that goes forth now in the Lord. The promise no longer only a place, but a way of being. The resurrection of the promise that we can take to our inmost hearts, written on our hearts, to carry with us, whether at home or walking abroad, whether lying down or rising, a sign for all the world to see, no letter of introduction required.

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