A Sure Thing
2 Corinthians 5:1-5
Paul uses metaphors to convey his message in the same way that Jesus used parables. Jesus’ parables took complex concepts and framed them in a way that the common people could easily understand. Speaking in terms of agriculture, the weather or other commonalities familiar to his listeners, Jesus made his message clear, and helped those who heard him (“Let the one who has ears, hear and understand!”) absorb the gospel and translate it into a message that would serve them well in their daily lives.
Paul, writing and speaking mostly to Gentiles, uses figures of speech they would understand. He speaks of races and other athletic contests. He refers to our bodies as “jars of clay.” He uses terms from legal language that would have been familiar to those who read and heard his letters. He compares the church to the human body.
We find one of these figures of speech in Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth. He has been speaking of the ultimate destruction of our jars of clay, the passing away of our human bodies. He talks about the body as a tent, and says that we shouldn’t be concerned about this dwelling being destroyed. We have a better piece of real estate waiting for us in the presence of God—a house that will be ours for all eternity.
He assures his readers—which includes us, since we are also his readers—that this destruction of our physical bodies is necessary in order to inherit the imperishable dwelling that awaits us. When “what is mortal” is “swallowed up by life,” we will be given clothing that will be better and more complete than the earthly tent we now inhabit. He sort of mixes metaphors here, between tents and clothing, but the central idea is the same—we will inherit an eternal dwelling place.
How do we know this will come to pass? Do we only have Paul’s word to rely on? Isn’t that a little scary, even given that Paul is among Jesus’ faithful apostles, and one whose word can be trusted?
It turns out we don’t have to take Paul’s word that what awaits us after life ends is better than anything we have here—and he uses a real estate term to make his point. The last phrase of today’s reading tells us that God “has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”
If you’ve ever bought a house you know that, in order to seal the deal, money has to change hands—not the full amount, but enough to constitute “earnest money.” It’s the buyer’s way of telling the seller, “I’m serious about this. Here’s a deposit to guarantee that I’ll go through with the purchase. The deposit doesn’t have to be much (we’ve put down as little as $100 for some of the houses we’ve bought), just enough to say, “We intend to go through with the deal, and here’s money to show we’re serious.”
This is the “guarantee” of which Paul speaks. God seals the deal with us by giving the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. This is God’s way of saying, “I’m serious about this. Accept the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in your life and I’ll guarantee that, when life is over, your real estate will be waiting for you.”
All we have to do to keep our side of the bargain is let the Holy Spirit live in us and transform us day by day into the people God would have us be. Of course, our side of the bargain isn’t easy. God requires that we be attentive to the Spirit’s voice and leading. We can no longer be completely in charge of our lives because the Spirit leads us to follow God’s will rather than our own.
Still, you’re not going to find a better deal anywhere else.