How easily our heads are turned by gossip.
One of my favorite movies of all time is White Christmas, that wonderful 1954 chestnut starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen. I watch it every year. As in so many other films, much of the plot is driven by rumor and misunderstanding.
Crosby is on the phone with an old Army buddy in New York, trying to set up a generous gift for their former commanding officer. Emma (Mary Wickes), the busybody housekeeper, listens in on the extension, but doesn’t catch the whole conversation. She jumps to the conclusion that Crosby is acting for selfish reasons, and her gossip to that effect causes a rift in the budding romance between Crosby and Clooney.
By the end of the movie, of course, all is well. But somewhere in there, you want someone to take Emma aside and scold her for all the trouble she’s caused. And you want her to repent of her nosy ways.
As we’ve seen in previous posts, Paul has spent over two chapters of Second Corinthians defending his apostleship against the accusations and insinuations of his opponents. They have boasted about their own qualifications and denigrated Paul — and some of the people have been listening.
Paul was forced to do his own boasting, his own way, to put his opponents’ claims in proper perspective. But he hated doing it. And here, as he brings this foolishness to a close, his frustration shows:
I have been a fool! You forced me to it. Indeed you should have been the ones commending me, for I am not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, signs and wonders and mighty works. How have you been worse off than the other churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong! (2 Cor 12:11-13, NRSV)
Reading between the lines, we can almost hear the insinuations being whispered (or shouted?) in the Corinthians’ ears. Paul’s reference to the “super-apostles” can be taken two ways. On the one hand, he may be saying, “I’m not less than my opponents, who are only styling themselves as apostles, and making themselves out to be superior. And if I’m nothing, what does that make them?”
On the other hand, he may mean, “I’m not less than the eminent apostles in Jerusalem, like Peter and James, even though I shouldn’t even count (cf. 1 Cor 15:9).” Either way, Paul’s opponents seem to have been building themselves up as legitimate apostles by tearing him down.
And his rhetorical question, “How have you been worse off…?” suggests the rumor that Paul has treated them shabbily. How so?
In the context of what he says here and in chapters 9 and 11, it sounds like his opponents have exploited some lingering resentment that Paul refused to accept the Corinthians’ patronage. As we’ve already seen, and will see again in the next passage, to this rumor was added the accusation that Paul refused their support as part of his nefarious plan to embezzle from what he hoped would be the church’s generous and charitable offering for Christians in Jerusalem.
They should have known better than to listen to such nonsense. Hadn’t Paul’s apostleship already been authenticated by “signs and wonders and mighty works”? Hadn’t they seen his character through his patient endurance of suffering? Wasn’t the fact of their own conversion and spiritual giftedness evidence enough?
How had he wronged them? We might forgive Paul a bit of sarcasm here.
Many of us know how easily the gossip mill can get fired up in a local church, and how eager people are to listen. Gossip plays to our sense of superiority and pricks our latent resentments. And all of this may fly in the face of clear evidence of the contrary: we can actually start believing the worst about someone who’s only shown us the best.
But hey, we would never really do that.