20 So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” 21 God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.
1 Since we work together with him, we are also begging you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 He says, I listened to you at the right time, and I helped you on the day of salvation. Look, now is the right time! Look, now is the day of salvation!
3 We don’t give anyone any reason to be offended about anything so that our ministry won’t be criticized.4 Instead, we commend ourselves as ministers of God in every way. We did this with our great endurance through problems, disasters, and stressful situations. 5 We went through beatings, imprisonments, and riots. We experienced hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger. 6 We displayed purity, knowledge, patience, and generosity. We served with the Holy Spirit, genuine love, 7 telling the truth, and God’s power. We carried the weapons of righteousness in our right hand and our left hand. 8 We were treated with honor and dishonor and with verbal abuse and good evaluation. We were seen as both fake and real,9 as unknown and well known, as dying—and look, we are alive! We were seen as punished but not killed,10 as going through pain but always happy, as poor but making many rich, and as having nothing but owning everything. (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10 Common English Bible)
It's Ash Wednesday, a day of reflection and repentance. With it we begin this Lenten season, which so often is defined by "giving up things." With Lent we remember Jesus' 40 day and 40 night sojourn in the wilderness, but at the end of the journey, after we go through the event of Good Friday, we arrive at Easter. There is hope at the end of the journey.
The Ash Wednesday reading from the Epistles comes from 2 Corinthians 5-6, a passage that I have long felt lies at the center of our calling as Christians to participate in God's work of reconciliation. Paul calls on the Corinthian church, and us, to represent Christ to the world, offering to the world God's offer of reconciliation through Christ. In this portion of the text, Paul confesses that this ministry of reconciliation has not been without its challenges. He and his companions have endured much along the way, but they take joy in the opportunity to bring the message to the world.
Why go through these challenges? For Paul it is the realization that a relationship with God and with neighbor is broken and needs restored. Thus, the one who knew no son, becomes sin so that we might "become the righteousness of God." It's not that Jesus becomes a sinner, but that in Jesus God identifies with us, so that we might become that which is God -- righteous. That is, to quote from Derek Flood's new book:
We become the dikaiosyne theou. God's righteousness causes us to become God's righteousness. Again, this is justification in the sense of being relationally set right, entailing real change in who we are, and how we live, and think, effected in us by the indwelling life of God. In other words, our experience of the indwelling Spirit in a loving relationship transforms us into Christ-likeness. That is what justification means. It is a restorative, life-imparting act. Paul's understanding of the cross is within the context of restoration and healing, not punishment and appeasement. (Derek Flood, Healing the Gospel: A Radical Vision for Grace, Justice, and the Cross, p. 105)
As we begin our journey today toward Easter, may we let go of that which prevents us from taking hold of God's righteousness, and find in Christ that restoration we so desire.