Saturday, September 14, 2013

Chief of Sinners?

Cartoon credit: Agnus Day  
I like the irony in this cartoon, although I'm not sure I understand the humour in it. This is tomorrow's epistle lesson, wherein the apostle Paul gives himself the "honour," or "privilege" of being regarded as the "chief of sinners." I get the concluding remark regarding self-centred, and its irony. Luther, of course, defined sin as being turned in upon one's self. So does not being called "chief of sinners" epitomize that reality? Why did Paul want that honour or privilege? Was it because he had an overly guilty/shameful conscience, as some commentators try to make the case for? I'm doubtful of that, since he describes himself in Philippians as a very zealous, and advanced Torah-keeping Jew, so I don't think he'd be filled with a guilty/shameful conscience. Or perhaps is it that Paul just simply has an overly big ego or super-ego and needs/craves attention? Or related to that, is it because he insists on having authority as an apostle over those whom is is supposedly "serving," i.e. the Gentile congregations?  The phrase "chief of sinners," may very well be an honour/privilege of every human being, since we are all equals in God's eyes and presence - i.e. we are all sinners, and we are all in need of forgiveness, mercy and grace, and in Christ, recipients of the same. So, in that sense, Paul is not of a higher rank of class or status than any other human being.
   All in all, I think Paul is a rather "loner," "maverick" apostle - who ironically seems to insist in his own correctness theologically and the claim of authority to buttress that correctness; yet, ironically, in Galatians, he doesn't seem to have a lot of respect for the authority of the other apostles, since it was at least three years before he went to visit the apostles Peter and James in Jerusalem. In this same letter, Paul records a dispute with Peter regarding the latter's dietary habits, which Paul thought hypocritical. However, we don't have Peter's side of the dispute, so is Paul merely running Peter down, taking a cheap shot at him in order to exonerate himself and his authority? It's hard to come to a clear conclusion. 
   When all is said and done, regarding Paul's life and work however, I think we are left with the sense of irony and paradox that he does come across on the negative side as being patronizing toward the Gentile congregations, self-centred and overly heavy handed, and an advocate of women being submissive to men in marriage and in church leadership roles, while at the same time seeming to rethink that view in Galatians by stating there is neither male nor female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, all are equal/one in Christ, and, of course, in terms of his theological reasoning powers and creativity, he is likely the most sophisticated of all the New Testament authors, with the exception of the author of the Gospel of John. One wonders where or how far Christianity would have gotten without Paul, since he was instrumental in founding many of the Gentile congregations in the Mediterranean world.

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