Friday, September 7, 2012

Corinth.... Today

Friday: 7 September, 2012 –– 22nd Week in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthian 4:1–5 / Luke5:33–39
Corinth.... Today

In this fourth chapter of First Corinthians Paul is bringing his first main point in the letter to a conclusion. He has been talking about the conflict between the world's wisdom and God's wisdom. God's wisdom offers the world a crucified Messiah. People who embrace God's wisdom become people of the cross.  The world has a wisdom that promises life, but gives death; God's people follow Jesus by embracing death to gain life.  Christians believe one can win by losing.

The Corinthians did not “get it.” They wanted to skip crucifixion and go straight to the glory of resurrection. Their focus was not a crucified Messiah; they were “children of the King!” They deserved the best. Why should they allow their image to be tarnished by that radical fellow named Paul, who was more of an embarrassment than anything else?

This is the context of this fourth chapter of Corinthians. But writing with the authority of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul responds not only to his defense, but to the very heart of the gospel and its application. To do this, Paul gets behind the “opinionitis” that characterizes “natural” people –– people who are not conformed to the Spirit of God.

This raises the issue of judging. Today’s text ends with a warning not to judge. That seems simple enough, and consistent with what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: Do not judge... (Matt. 7:1). Yet we need to hear that in tandem with other commands and occasions which say the opposite.  In the next chapter of First Corinthians Paul will tell the church to judge a man.  A bit further in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to judge the character of false prophets by their actions –– by their fruit you will recognize them (Matt. 7:20).

The Corinthians were doing something else. They were trying to use the gospel to better themselves, but still according to the world’s values.  For people who had not been influential or had noble birth (1:26), they wanted to use their faith as a self-promotional, self-improvement plan. As if that were not bad enough, while professing Christ, they were looking with disdain on anything that might be too radical, too fundamental, too evangelistic, too emotional or too simple in faith. That was how the Corinthians saw Paul, and their opinion of him was plain:  he was an embarrassment. The Corinthians looked at Paul and saw an unimpressive man.  Tradition says he was physically unattractive. He himself admitted earlier in the letter that his coming to the Corinthians was not marked by eloquence or superior wisdom (2:1). His message was simple and unimpressive –– a crucified Messiah.

Do you know people who are ashamed of what the Church really believes?  Do you know people who get angry when their priest tells them the truth? Do you know people who want to look impressive in the eyes of the world's values, and can’t see this is in conflict with a faithful Church?  The Corinthian problem did not stop with the first century.

Paul had an anointing of the Spirit to lead the church and he used his apostolic authority to clarify issues that are with us all the way to today. And the first way he did that was by applying the gospel to his own life.  He met the chief requirement of one who would minister in the name of and unto Jesus Christ: he was trustworthy (v2) –– faithful! He was faithful among the servants of Christ, and he was one of those entrusted with the mysteries of God (v1).

Faithfulness is a tall order for a Christian.  The standard of faithfulness is Jesus himself, and his obedience to the Father. When we have bishops and priests who follow St Paul’s legacy and show a desire to be faithful by boldly proclaiming the Truth of God and his Church, we need to be thankful.... and receptive.

Paul wrote this letter under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit not only for the Corinthians, but for us. Do you know what really matters for us? It is the things that will have made a difference for Jesus' sake 100 years from now: the way we judge....  the way we (do not) promote ourselves....  the way we merely live in this world from day to day....  These things tell whether we are still stuck in Corinth or whether we are following St Paul on the path of the cross with our Lord.

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