The Prayer Book has a pesky habit (a habit we encounter almost every week) of beginning and ending the Lessons from the Epistles and Gospels quite arbitrarily, in the middle of a paragraph, with scant regard for the flow of thought in the Scripture itself. It is almost as if the editors who selected the readings (the selections are much more ancient than the Prayer Book itself) wanted to drive us back to the Scriptures, making us open our Bibles and find out what the passage is really about.
Such is definitely the case with today's Epistle from 2 Corinthians 3. Paul is saying “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.” This is like walking into the middle of a conversation between Paul and the Corinthians. What confidence? A confidence which a mere sinful man would have in the face of God is surely a wonderful thing.
When we go back a couple of verses, to the beginning of the chapter, this is cleared up. Paul had just informed his readers that he needed no letter of recommendation from them, as certain other apostles evidently were requesting of them. Letters of recommendation were a common practice in the ancient world, particularly for travelers. Paul has said that he has no need for such documentation, as the simple fact of a Church in Corinth, something Paul had founded through his preaching, is sufficient evidence of his effectiveness as an apostle.
Paul's line of argument is surprising. The Corinthian Church was a mess, full of heresy, immorality, disorder. Paul's detractors might indeed have said, “Look at that corrupt church, which Paul started! By his fruits we shall know him!” This church was hardly a credit to its founder!
But Paul knew that for all its problems, the Body of Christ was truly alive in Corinth. This body was more than the sum of its members, as Paul wrote, “the Spirit giveth life.” Paul went on to speak of the “glory” of the Body: “how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be glorious.”
The Church as we experience it is frequently an inglorious and imperfect affair. But the Church as God sees it is truly glorious, as sinners are being turned into saints. This is the glory of a “new testament,” the new and final chapter in God's plan of salvation. The “old testament” made through Moses had a glory of its own, a glory which has now passed into history. But the glory of the Risen Christ is a far greater glory, which the life-giving Spirit implants in every believer. That was Paul's confidence, trust, and certitude, which he invites us to share.
Concerning the Gospel:
Almost never do we find a Sunday Gospel selection from Mark. And the remarkable thing in today's Gospel is that it is a passage unique to Mark, with no real parallel in Matthew or Luke.
This passage contains a text perplexing to many. "And he charged them that they should tell no man, but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it."
Here we have an occurrence of a special feature in Mark, the so-called "Messianic secret." Seven times (the number could be symbolic) Our Lord emphatically directed the witnesses of His miracles to "tell no man." Each time the command is quickly disobeyed, with one exception. The first instance of this "secret" comes in Mark 1:34, where "he would not permit the demons to speak, for they knew him." The followers of Jesus, to our surprise, are less obedient than the demons! Lacking the supernatural knowledge of the demons, they do not know who He is.
This theme is sustained from the opening chapter to the very last. On Easter morning, the women at the tomb are specifically commanded to go and tell His disciples. Here the instructions are reversed, but the disobedience continues. "They said nothing to any man, for they were afraid." The irony is almost overwhelming. The Gospel message has been brought to its perfection, and the friends of Jesus fall into silence, suddenly suffering an impediment in their speech.
This bring us around to the miracle before us in which Jesus healed a man who was deaf and afflicted with a speech impediment. Like every miracle in all of the Gospels, the afflicted person is a picture of our human predicament. We are deaf to the voice of God, deaf to the cries of our fellow human beings. We cannot articulate the message God has given us or even our deepest prayers to Him. But we can jabber incessantly when we ought to be silent.
Charles Wesley wrote a stanza which is a great comment on this passage:
Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Saviour come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy!
Let us add our voices to the chorus of praise which concludes our passage: "He hath done all things well, for he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to sing."