With unveiled faces

Published 5:34 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2019

By Charles Qualls

I grew up with the notion that only bad guys covered their faces, since I watched so many Westerns movies, as well as Batman and Superman TV reruns. A covered face seemed, to me anyway, the universal sign that someone was up to something they shouldn’t be.

Darkness. Covering. This past Sunday was Transfiguration Sunday, causing us to view Scripture through lenses of a mysterious and powerful story of Jesus encountering veiled faces on a mountaintop that were, at first, hard to recognize.

We tend to fear what we can’t see. I’m not altogether sure why that is. Not everybody on the face of the earth lives like we do. Truth be told, very few people on the face of earth live like we do by so many counts.

When you combine acts of war and terrorism by some Middle-Eastern religious extremists, with our latent fear of things we can’t see into, I am afraid we have probably gained a worse-than-called-for fear of people who cover their faces and heads in our culture. We just automatically suspect complete strangers, who may be no better or worse people than we are, simply because they don’t look like us.

This is the sort of thing that can come to mind when we hear words like the ones Paul spoke in 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2. The church at Corinth that he had lived among for well over a year was waffling. They were divided at the behest of competing leaders who wanted essentially to become the pastor there. Accusations had also been made about Paul, probably by loyalists of one of the outsiders.

I find Barbara Brown Taylor’s statement from within her New York Times best-seller titled, “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” to be compelling. This great preacher and wordsmith tells of times growing up when, like other children, her mother would call her and the siblings in at dark.

She says, “The dangerousness of the dark was like the law of gravity. No one could say exactly how it worked, but everyone agreed on it.” She notes that, once inside, the house was filled with light from bulbs that had been turned on seemingly in every room. At bedtime, though, all those lights were turned off. As soon as her parents tucked her in, it felt to her that the darkness collected around her with what she terms a magnetic malevolence.

We fear darkness, whether it be a lack of light or a covered face. The kind of darkness Paul has on his mind isn’t the physical darkness we see when there is no source of visual light. His fixation is on what he sees as a spiritual condition of darkness among the church’s members.

This darkness is a “veiled” spiritual sight that the people have chosen to put on. They have hardened their hearts to most anything that actually resembles the love and the good news of Jesus Christ. Instead, they are in no condition now to receive from a messenger of God — nor from Godself — a redemptive word.

Paul references here the notion that Moses came back from being in the presence of God a changed man. Exodus 34 portrays this as being a visceral, brightened change of Moses’ physical countenance. He looked different! Everything about him, including his skin and his hair — even his clothes — seemed to have been essentially bleached white from having been in the intenseness of God’s glory.

Apparently, Paul references here Moses’ habit of covering his face with a veil after that, so sharp were the people’s reactions to see his changed visage. Paul turns this around in the telling of the story though — pointing out that the true characters in this biblical drama who wore veils — were all the other people.

They were so hardened of heart to God’s leadership, Gods’ word, God’s genuine and sent leaders that they were a veiled people. A people living in darkness.

Problem is, they were about to kill the church, too. They were too unhealthy to be lead characters in following what God would do. Instead, they did the one thing that those in perpetual darkness do: they pull the place down. They pull it apart from within the darkness of their ill health.

Someone once said, “There’s no reason to be sneaking around if you aren’t up to nothin’.” That’s one of the messages Paul has for the church at Corinth. Get healthy, reject ill intentions. Stop empowering people who are sneaking around. Insist on better behavior. Get back on track and serve God. That’s still a good word for America’s ailing churches today.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.