In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul contrasts the letter of the law with the living Spirit. He is writing as a Jew who believes that the Jew, Jesus, has inaugurated a new covenant—not only for
but for all people. Paul sees his mission as one of bringing the Jewish Messiah
to the Gentile world. Israel
Paul, at times (such as in this text), can be a bit disparaging toward his own people, the Jews, which is understandable in light of the opposition he encountered from them in preaching a crucified Messiah. In passages like 2 Cor. 3 his frustration surfaces.
But the veil Paul is talking about is not just a veil over the minds of his Jewish brothers and sisters, it’s a veil over all our minds. It keeps us from seeing the glory of the Lord and being changed by that glory.
This is why when unconverted, unchanged people, without genuine God encounter, read the Bible, they often use the Bible in life diminishing and denigrating ways. We all know how the Bible has been (and in many cases continues to be) used to support slavery, male dominance and patriarchal structures, war and violence, capital punishment, vengeance, segregation, elitism, sexism, exceptionalism, homophobia, and all sorts of other destructive attitudes, behaviors, and policies. You can find a verse in the Bible to support just about anything.
In the Synoptic Gospels, just before Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to be rejected, suffer, and be killed by the religious powers. Then he tells them that if they are going to be his followers they too will have to die—to the false self, the ego-driven self—and be willing to suffer with him and follow him to the cross (see Luke 9:21–27). But a veil covers their minds and they do not understand.
So Jesus takes three of the twelve with him upon the mountain. Maybe these three will grasp what is happening and what Jesus is calling them to be and do. Jesus is transfigured before them. Moses and Elijah—representing the Law and the prophets—appear with Jesus, though Jesus takes center stage.
Luke’s Gospel tells us that they talked about his departure, his exodus, his approaching death, but once again, the disciples didn’t understand. Peter wants to camp out on the mountain. Forget about Jesus’ mission and the other disciples engaged in a struggle in the valley, he wants to camp out on the mountaintop. “Let’s build some huts and stay here a while. It’s good for us be here” (see Luke 9:33).
Luke says that Peter didn’t know what he was saying, and while he was talking a cloud enveloped them and the Divine Voice says, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him” (9:34–35). Listen to what he is telling you about discipleship, about dying to your false self, about the way of the cross. But they still don’t get it; their minds are veiled.
They come down from the mountain and join the others who are engaged in a struggle with an evil spirit. Jesus casts out the evil spirit and then says, “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered over to human hands” (Luke 9:44). Luke says, “But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it” (9:45). The veil still covered their minds.
According to Luke’s version, even after Jesus tells them three times he is going to be rejected, suffer, and die, on the night of his arrest, just after he eats the Passover with them, the disciples get into an argument about who is going to be the greatest in God’s kingdom. The veil is still wrapped around their minds and hearts.
When is the veil removed? Not until Jesus appears to them alive after his death. They had fled the arrest scene in fear. They proved to be cowards. No longer are they arguing about who is the greatest. If they are having any argument now it’s about who is the biggest loser or failure.
When they encounter Christ alive what they experience is divine grace. When Christ meets them in their fear and failure, he meets them in their humiliation, which he turns into humility with his unconditional acceptance and forgiveness.
Paul says to the Corinthians that when one authentically turns to the Lord the veil is removed (2 Cor. 3:16). If we can draw any conclusions from the experience of Jesus’ disciples in the Gospels, then surely the first step in this process is about realizing our powerlessness and our very real need for grace.
Until we come to the limits of our own fuel supply there is no reason for us to sense a need for a more high octane fuel. It is not until our normal resources are depleted and shown to be wanting, that we are ready to draw upon a larger and greater source.