Rev. Katherine Todd
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
Second Corinthians concludes with the passage we just read, and in it, most of Paul’s exhortations to the Christians in Corinth pertain to their relationships with one another.
I was most struck by the phrase interpreted here as “agree with one another.” That caught me off guard. For as much as Paul has emphasized the many different gifts, I thought he, of all people, would value the benefits of having folks in the congregation who do not all agree on everything. And this question caused me to look further back to the Greek words behind our English interpretation of this section of scripture.
Not surprisingly, this search opened up a wealth of meaning, far beyond our narrow interpretations; for interpretations are not frequently a one-to-one relationship. In other words, usually a word from another language is best described with many words, and not just one. So in translations, the actual meanings get narrowed – simply out of the desire to not encumber the message with too many words. But that also leaves us with the need to visit the original words from time to time, in order to more truly grasp the intended message of the writer.
So in this passage, if we add back in some of the breadth of Paul’s statement, we hear something more like this:
Finally brothers and sisters in the faith,
rejoice and be glad.
Mend, restore, complete.
Be knit together; be made complete.
Be restored; be made perfect.
Encourage and be encouraged.
Comfort and be comforted.
Exhort and be exhorted.
Commune, one with another.
Be like-minded. Be together, the same, equal.
Make peace. Be at peace.
And the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet/welcome/embrace one another with a holy kiss.
All the saints greet you.
And in reading this expanded meaning, I find myself moved.
As you listen to these expanded verses once more together, what sticks in your mind? Is there a word, an image, a thought? If so I encourage you to write that down. This is one way we listen for God’s word to us while reading scripture.
Re-read expanded translation.
The word that comes to mind for me is FAMILY.
The word family doesn’t even occur in this passage, but all of Paul’s exhortations to the community speak of family to me. Within family we have differences and disagreements. We are kin, yet we are not the same. And at the same time, we are all very much the same, and no one is better than another.
As family, we are knit together. We are bonded, one to another. We affect and impact one another. Our interactions matter. Our unity matters. Our divisions matter. Our actions and inactions matter.
Within family, we have responsibility – both to give and to receive. We have responsibility to the whole, to one another. And we have a part to play in whether the family promotes peace or discord, encouragement or discouragement, comfort or grief and anxiety, a true sharing of life or isolation. And Paul is be speaking to this family of faith in Corinth, these brothers and sisters in Christ.
And so when it comes to the question of “agreeing,” I believe Paul is simply trying to re-orient their thinking. This church has been dividing into camps based leadership styles, power, and authority. Their actions during communion are causing division. And Paul is exhorting them to remember they are one and the same. They pull the same plow. They are on the same team. They are indeed brothers and sisters, members of the same family. The grief of one is the grief of all. The blessing of one is the blessing of all. Therefore, they are to be like-minded. They are to pull the plow to reap the harvest, as one, together, in the same direction.
And Paul’s wisdom takes this a step further.
Most of us have our comfort zones. We like to give. We like to help. We like to fix. We like to comfort. We like to show up. …But Paul doesn’t simply say, “Give, help, fix, comfort, connect.” Paul encourages mutual affection and intention. They are not only to give but to receive, to help but to be helped, to comfort but to be comforted, to show up but also to allow others to show up for us.
And when it comes to responsibility, some of us prefer to merely attend to us and ours. It is our first responsibility, but Paul again takes it further, calling out their responsibility to one another. They are not only to be at peace but to make peace, to be restored but to restore, to be complete but to make things complete.
Our calling and responsibilities – as one body, one family, one church, one faith –
Are both to give
And to receive.
So in these mere 3 verses closing Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he encourages them to BE FAMILY, one to another.
We all know families by blood, but not by bond.
We know families by portrait, but not by shared experience.
We know families who hide their enmity behind hollow kind words.
We know families who exhaust themselves fighting one another, and never lift one another up.
WE are called to be different.
To truly connect
To truly do our part to make peace, one with another
To truly bear the common burden and pull the same plow.
For we are kin.
We are all alike, children of the Most High God.
Are we each doing our part,
to make peace,
to be restored,
to be made whole,
to make disciples and reap the harvest of the Living Christ?
We are one family.
Thanks be to God.