Paul is not an anti-Semite. I think we should start there. When Paul argues that Moses put a veil over his face and all who hear him read are veiled: this should not be read as anti-semitic. Paul was Jewish. It is more like differentiation. While the other apostles were trying to figure out how to stay within the establishment, it was Paul, pushing and prodding in communities all over the region to see the possibilities beyond the existing system. Paul is leading a theological revolution.
With Unveiled Faces (Day 32 of A Simple Lent) | Thursday
It is tricky to talk about how Paul describes his faith tradition. It makes me think of that saying “nobody can make fun of my brother but me” because Paul’s hard words are delivered, not as a harsh critic, but a devoted insider.
It is all those who have come after who have taken his words which differentiated the new thing which has come in the Word and Spirit as being against, as the evangelist John wrote “the Jews”.
I say this because his referring to the Law as death is some pretty intense rhetoric.
What is the veil Paul is talking about?
If you remember in Exodus, after the people are liberated from Egypt, wander around the desert grumbling, and then they start to prepare for their future. Moses goes up the mountain to chill with GOD for a few. Of course, while he’s gone, the people get restless. Moses didn’t say how long he was going to be away. So their brilliant idea is to make an idol and worship it.
When Moses comes back with the original set of the Ten Commandments, he is rightly cheesed at them and breaks the tablets (written by the finger of GOD).
When he goes back again, he intercedes on behalf of the people, begging GOD not to punish, but show mercy. And when Moses comes back down with the new 10 (written by the finger of GOD) the people freak out because his face is glowing like the sun.
For the rest of his life, Moses would wear a veil around the people, not because of people’s fear, but he didn’t want the people to think he alone was special. He wanted them to see the word of GOD as special.
He also was concerned that the glow would fade – if the people saw the brightness fading, they would think GOD was abandoning him. So he would come before the presence and his face would begin to glow anew.
But it is GODness in the glow that Moses seems most concerned with. He reveals his face to the people in his teachings, so that it wasn’t Moses the man they saw, but GOD. And he would veil his face the rest of the time so it wasn’t Moses the GOD-chosen they interacted with.
The phrase Paul uses: “minds were hardened” is an interesting juxtaposition with the hard heart of Pharaoh. And in some ways, it does fit, for it isn’t the people’s faith that routinely escapes them, or their compassion for one another as much as it was their willingness to hear where GOD is leading them.
This certainly is fruitful territory for conversation, but not one I’m interested in today. Precisely because it isn’t a critique Paul is trying to offer but differentiation. It seems that for Paul, Moses should not have worn a veil, but instead demonstrate to the world what the greatness of GOD actually looks like. This is less a critique of tradition and more to say that the new thing GOD is offering the people should be revealed to them.
We should not miss how Paul connects the hard-minded people Moses was leading with those he was leading in Corinth. If I were to say that “he was speaking to those who struggled to know the grace of GOD and remember the liberating love they had personally experienced” one could certainly apply it to both.
This is all background. It isn’t the argument. This isn’t what Paul is trying to say, he’s just getting them up to speed. A bit of a here’s what I mean when I say this. What he wants to say is:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
He wants to talk to these people about what GOD is doing for them. Paul, like Moses actually, is hoping a hard-minded people will know the grace and mercy of GOD, not only the judgment.
The veil Moses wears deals with a people prone to worship Moses the man and regard him as above them. Paul, on the other hand is dealing with the opposite problem.
And yet the words go so far beyond the example of the veil: the veil–to wear it or not: that it speaks to the very glory of GOD, of the mercy and revelation in our lives, and our willingness to participate in something much bigger, freakier than ourselves.
That we, “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another”.
Can you see it? Will you reveal it?
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