There are many ways in which Paul speaks of what Christ has done for us: justification; transformation; glorification; redemption; salvation; freedom; and reconciliation. There are more terms which Paul uses, but I want to focus on reconciliation, which is used in the Second Reading for Ash Wednesday, 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2. The Greek verb which we translate as “reconcile”, katallassein, has the sense restoring relationships that have been broken, to repair hostility and strife between parties, to move from anger to love. In 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, Paul writes, “so if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”
In these verses it is clear that the initiative for reconciliation, for repairing the damaged relationship between human beings and God, came from God through Christ. The reconciliation has been effected for those who would accept it, and Paul, and his co-workers, are simply offering this reconciliation on God’s behalf. “All this is from God!” Given that the Corinthians are already a part of the Church, it is not unwise to assume that they have, at some point, grasped and accepted this reconciliation, yet Paul is here offering it again.
Paul is, indeed, making an official offer, a guaranteed offer if you will, because he is an official representative of the one who effected this reconciliation: “We are ambassadors for Christ,as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5: 20-21). While the language is passive, “be reconciled,” God has already created the conditions for reconciliation, actively, for he “reconciled us to himself through Christ.” The only task for the Corinthians, and us, is to accept this reconciliation. It can be done again, whenever the relationship is in danger of rupture, even if it has been done before, and before, and before that.
Paul is aware that God’s grace has been at work amongst the Corinthians and that they have, indeed, accepted it previously, for asks that:
“Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: In an acceptable time I heard you,and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).”
What does it mean “to receive the grace of God in vain?” To my mind, and especially in this context, it means not to return to repair the relationship with God through Christ when sin has damaged it, instead of accepting reconciliation which is constantly on offer. Now is the time, now is the day of salvation; not only are ambassadors standing by to take your requests at your local parish, but God is ready to come together, right now, over you.
John W. Martens