Bible Studies on the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace
"Kerygma: Proclamation as Living Testimony" (2 Corinthians 6:1-10)
By Prof. Dr. Iosif Bosch*
We live in the time-space of uncreated grace, a gentle urgency that encourages us to live our contingency in view of eternity.
1As we work together with him,we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, “At an acceptable time I havelistened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
This evangelical pericope is a proclamation, a declaration, even a harangue. It is passionate, visceral, vehement, enthusiastic. As such, it is not self-referential; it is theo-referential: christocentric, pneumatological, eschatological. It is not only directed to a particular community, in Corinth, but born from a community transcending the time-space variable and directed to its extension in the just mentioned variable: for that reason, it is eminently ecclesiastical. All these essential notes we have just described evoke the idea of kerygma or proclamation.
The apostolic kerygma has strength in itself, from itself, because it is not the product of a dialectic or philosophical, moral, or sapiential speculation: it is the vivid—suffered, lived and proved—proclamation of the real and direct experience of Christ himself. There is a simple but essential logic in this process: if the person does not live Christ himself, has not a direct experience of him—as well as the apostles had—then his or her proclamation (kerygma) becomes a dead letter, just religious peroration, deontological manual, or moralistic discourse.
So the sine qua non for undertaking the apostolic life and task is the living experience of the Christ event. According to this perception, life precedes preaching and not vice-versa. The experience of the cure and therapy of the triple relationality—of God, humans and creation—through the fulfillment of the commandment of love in community is an irrevocable condition to be a Christian and, of course, to be an apostle.
This is a new experience characterized by freedom and by selfless love; a constant training – ascesis – and struggle of the whole person to identify with the Christic archetype; an experience outside the limits imposed even by religion and its psychological, philosophical and moral presuppositions. In the end, it means a life identified with faith: I believe Christ, I trust Christ, then I believe in Christ.
[The group spends some minutes in silence and prayer.]
Master, you who love humankind. Shine in our hearts the pure light of your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our mind that we may comprehend the proclamations of your gospel. Instill in us also reverence for your blessed commandments so that, having trampled down all carnal desires, we may lead a spiritual life, both thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to you. For you, Christ our God, are the illumination of our souls and bodies, and to you we offer up glory, together with your Father, who is without beginning, and your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Exposition of the Text
The apostolic exhortation describes the diverse circumstances in which this exercise, this training on healing our relationality, on the ultimate identification with Christ, is done. Let us see, then, in detail, these circumstances.
- A. Synergy (v.1)
I notice a key word that gives us the guideline of how this exercise –or ascesis – is carried out: synergy. Of course, it is the human component that freely and lovingly joins the divine will. But it has been preceded by the divine, kenotic and erotic movement, through which God has self-transcended and created all things, giving origin to his own dynamic and dramatic revelation.
That revelation is nothing else than God giving Godself to all creation and especially to humanity, made in God’s image and according to God’s likeness. This free and loving movement of the economic Trinity is necessarily creative, redeeming, and perfecting. It manifests itself continuously from the very moment of creation until the eschaton, the end of created history. Humanity, in turn, freely and lovingly joins this movement or kinésis: here is synergy, co-operation, sunergeia.
Humanity, then, becomes co-creator with God and co-operator in God’s divine providence. According to the Orthodox church tradition, this co-operation is accomplished through the free, dynamic, and unlimited participation of humanity in the divine uncreated energies, which are nothing else than God offering Godself to all creation.
It is in this perspective that the apostle exhorts the Corinthians to participate in God´s grace: not to leave it aside, not to ignore it, not to deny it. The grace of God, God’s infinite uncreated energy, fills all things and beings in infinite ways. But humanity must participate freely, consciously, and lovingly with this new reality.
Divine grace is revealed and enacted at the human level essentially through human relationality, that is, in community, in the body, in the daily co-existence with other members of this body, in the arena where humans exercise their quality and become living images of God. Grace, then, cannot be lost. It cannot be ignored. For grace is gift, charisma. Without grace, there is no exercise; there is no syn-ergy; there is no comm-unio, no church! Without grace, we become dis–graced. Divine grace must be participated in here and now. God´s grace is an urgency!
For Reflection and Discussion
- Am I personally working along with God’s plan?
- How do I cooperate with God’s plan?
- Is there a (divine) plan? Could I change it, or alter it?
- Is it my plan or God’s plan? Is there any difference?
- Is my community cooperating with God’s Economy (Providence)?
- As a community, are we testifying the truth?
- B. Opportune time (v.2)
At this juncture, the apostle evokes the prophet Isaiah (Isa 49:8). Kairos dektos, or the opportune time  is eternity itself paradoxically extending and limiting itself to the laws of our created nature. It’s a mystery: the divine space-time is the supra-natura operating on the (infra-) natura.
We are talking about the kenotic and erotic divine perenniality dilated in us and for us, tending toward the created to save it – through purification and perfection - from its own contingency. We live in the time-space of uncreated grace, already! Right here and now! It cannot wait. Now is the opportune time to act, hastily, for the Lord! It denotes a timeless ever (and parallel n-ever), continuously current. It should be described as a gentle urgency that encourages us to live our contingency through all its extensions, perceptions, and derivations in the view of eternity.
In such a view, our contingency-eventuality-possibility is a gift, a charisma, when it is permeated by uncreated grace; when it is lived as an opportunity; when it is taken as the unique occasion by which divine, uncreated energy dilates all its limits, and makes everything possible. This is not a theological cliché! It is true!
The “time of God” is a time of perfection. For when God appears and reveals Godself, God offers Godself. Salvation-perfection is the kingdom of God, that is, ultimately, God is between and within us, God-who-shares-Godself: his divine, infinite, and uncreated energies, here and now!
For reflection and discussion
- Am I seizing my time on this earth?
- Do I make time for God? And for others?
- Did I ever feel the urgency to serve God and the other?
- Have I ever felt or, better, lived God’s everlasting time-space? When?
- When is the right time to cooperate with our community?
- Is God’s timing synchronized with ours?
- C. Relationality (v.3-4a)
Those who live the experience of the Christ consider their lives in reference to another: I experience myself through the other. That attitude is translated into service, diakonia. Service is a charisma, a gift, but it must be considered in relationship to another reality or being and, in this way, placed at the service of the other.
This concept of Christian relationality is interpreted through the parameter of love. Diakonia is proof of love. It doesn’t have only a moral or ethical content. It’s more, it has ontological significance and implication. The one who loves necessarily serves, as Christ did. There is no choice. This is the visceral radicality of the gospel. Therefore, service is necessarily related to Christ.
The apostle speaks about the “servants of God” not because we serve only God – God doesn’t need to be served by us – but because through Christ’s example and the Trinitarian grace we do what Christ did: we serve humanity without any distinction, at all times and in all circumstances and, of course, without limits. Indeed, we are talking about a super-human task. Indeed it is, because based in Christ, it must be considered theandric, divine-and-human-altogether!
This is about unconditional love, the ultimate self-transcendence! The sublimation of the ego in all its dimensions. That means the very love exercised by Christ and made known to us through his actions, signs, and symbols. Scandal is not loving as Christ loved. Scandal is not serving as Christ served. And so, the ultimate –organized and institutionalized— scandal is the Christian kerygma adapted to our own ego.
For reflection and discussion
- What is my spiritual understanding of relationship-relationality?
- How do I relate myself to others? To God? To nature?
- Can someone be isolated in a net of relationships?
- Can someone be alone and still have a relationship with God?
- How is my relationship with my community?
- In this context, how do we see inter-dependence?
- D. Contingency (v.4-10)
In this last section, the apostle describes the vicissitudes and circumstances of spiritual exercise, of ascesis, of service. His description is precise and rich.
The apostle applies to our reality the notion of the time that is opportune and pleasing to God. Always and in all circumstances, we must discover the opportune time to live and serve according to Christ. Created contingency can make circumstances more or less pleasant. That’s true; but that should be secondary. We don’t want to underestimate created reality. We value and assume it as a gift, since we are living here and now, since God is acting through, above, and within it, since it is a pure reflection of God’s love, mercy, and economy.
Everything is ready for us to live Christ, if we so decide. Likewise, we cannot ignore the fact that this exercise, this relational asceticism, takes place between being and nothingness; between being and well–being within a real (ontological) contingency and that necessarily is dramatic and sometimes traumatic. And even tragic.
Nevertheless, this unique experience mysteriously unites created nature with un-created supra-nature: that’s why the Christian oxymoron can be experienced within the world (vv. 8-9a). And that’s why the oxymoron becomes a paradox for those who live and believe (vv. 9b-10). It is the expansion of divine grace on those who want to exercise themselves in the same love of Christ, on those who want to exercise themselves to be (like) Christ.
For reflection and discussion
- Do I understand my own contingency-eventuality-possibility as a gift?
- Can I discover God’s presence in my daily life? Where? How?
- Why do we suffer difficulties and complications when giving testimony?
- Do I see in adversities the hand of God? How?
- Do we feel God’s grace in our Community?
- Can we glimpse God’s grace in our life, church, society?
I conclude with the concept of paradox. Perhaps it is the most basic methodological resource at our disposal to describe this unique relationality in which we are dramatically and gradually healed and assimilated to the Trinitarian one.
The logical oxymoron of the theory becomes a paradox in practice. The oxymoron of God: to be God and to become human, and to die for his own creation. This is a contradiction that shakes us, destroys our ratio, and finally opens our spirit-mind –nous- to the decisive Infinity: love without frontiers, full relationality, identification with the Archetype.
The apostle proposes this very oxymoron to the Corinthians. But who can achieve this? Then, the oxymoron develops into a paradox: what is impossible for humanity, is possible for God (Luke 18:26-27).
Lord of our forebears, God of love and unspeakable mercy, who has given to your holy disciples and apostles your uncreated grace so they can see with your own eyes, meditate what is in your immeasurable mind, listen your unlimited silence, and be living images of you: You, Lord of life, grant us, just as you granted them, the same sacred grace so we can testify today that you are our God and that we are also your sacred images. Make our voice your voice. Allow us to see the world and every human being through your sight. Make our humanity, our weaknesses -even our transgressions- sources of life, love, and truth for everybody. Because you are our God, and you make signs and wonders even from the abyss of death, and we offer you our being, our existence, our life, our glorification, our gratitude, to the Triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and forever. Amen.
* Prof. Dr. Iosif Bosch, Bishop of Patara, has been named the new Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
. Apocalypse, revelation, divine economy, or providence: in the theology and praxis of the holy fathers of the Orthodox church, all these terms evoke the uncreated energies of God, a key dogmatic distinction in Eastern Orthodox theology.
. Participation, Συμ-μετοχή or summetoxé, means being and living within and from the uncreated energies.
 Perhaps a redundant concept. Καιρός means the opportune time, not before, not after, but the right timing. It is the auspicious time. Δεκτός means pleasing, beneficial, advantageous. So Καιρός δεκτός is the time (-space) of God!
. That expression reminds me of a dialogue between Parsifal and Gurnemanz in the second half of the first act of Wagner’s opera. I offer an allegorical interpretation: (1) Parsifal asks who and not what is the Grail (2) Gurnemanz replies that it cannot be said, but if someone is called to his service and of course willingly accepts it (synergy), the knowledge will be given from the very Grail, but through the person itself (participation), because there is no earthly way toward it. (3) When the Grail’s will and the human one are synchronized, time becomes space: the kairos dektos!