July 22 (O.S., July 9) 2018: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost. Hieromartyr Pancratius, Bishop of Taormina in Sicily (1st c.). Hieromartyr Cyril, bishop of Gortyna (250-252). Martyrs Patermuthius, Coprius, and Alexander (361). St. Theodore, bishop of Edessa (848).
St Paul demands from us a humanly impossible standard.
We are, he says, to “all speak the same thing,” that “there be no divisions among” us, and that we “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
Reading on in the epistle, it is clear that the Church in Corinth fell shorts of this. The Church was so corrupted by dissension that their witness was to a “Christ divided” and a “Paul crucified”!
So deep–and presumably bitter–were the divisions that Paul actually thanks God for not baptizing people.
As he often does, Paul holds himself up as an example of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.”
While we should always be cautious in reducing conflict to a single cause, in referring to his own ministry St Paul gives us at least one, possible, explanation for the difficulties plaguing the Church in Corinth. Paul is faithful to the task to which God has called him. He isn’t called to baptize but to preach the Gospel. Not only is he called to preach, he is called to preach in a particular way.
St Paul doesn’t preach the “profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” by those who “strayed concerning the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20, 21, NKJV). No Paul preaches nothing “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The Gospel he preaches is “a stumbling block” to the Jews and “foolishness” the Greeks foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23). But, as he reminds us this morning, “to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
St Paul is not counseling folly for folly’s sake. He isn’t anti-intellectual. He is, however, aware of the limits of human reason especially in response to God’s grace. “If human wisdom is at war with the Cross and fights against the Gospel,” St John Chrysostom says, “it is not right to boast about it. Rather, we should recoil in shame” (“Homilies of the Epistles of St Paul to the Corinthians,” 3.7 in ACCS, NT vol VIII, 1-2 Corinthians, p. 12).
The war between human reason and grace consists of my tendency to prefer my own thoughts and desires to the will of God. “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” Chrysostom says, “because it makes those who have it unwilling to learn more” (“Homilies of the Epistles,” 5.2, p. 17). It is my pride, not science or philosophy, that causes me to wage war against God. It isn’t what I know that causes me to turn from God but my misuses of what I have learned.
And having abandoned the God Who created me in His image for a god I create in my own, it follows naturally that I seek to refashion my neighbor in my own image and after my own likeness. It is this tendency to put God and my neighbor in a box that is the causes division in not only the Church but also the family and the nation.
Paul’s counsel to us is not that we abandon reason but pride. He isn’t telling us to be illiterate but humble. It is this reasonable humility that is absent among the Corinthians. They choose sides, one for Apollos, one for Cephas, another for Christ. While they are divided in the names to which they rally, they are united in their disregard for each other. Each one agrees on nothing except that his neighbor is his enemy.
Compare this to Jesus in the Gospel.
There is nothing forced or self-seeking in our Lord’s actions. Moved by his great love for each of us, He heals the sick.
And when it is time for the hungry to eat, Jesus doesn’t glorify Himself. Rather he invites the disciples to share in the miracle He is to perform. As God, He has no need for the disciples’ assistance. But He wants to show a “more excellent way” (see, 1 Corinthians 12:31). He wants to reveal to the disciples–and so to each of us–that we are His co-workers (see, 1 Corinthians 3:9).
This is what the Corinthians don’t know about themselves. That each one of them is a co-worker with Christ and so with each other.
This co-laboring, this working together, is not simply a practical standard. It is the defining quality of the Church because it is the central quality of God. Just as the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity work together, we who are in Christ must work together.
This doesn’t mean trying to fit each other into little boxes. Working together doesn’t mean I tell you what to do or you tell me what today. Rather, we are to help each other pursue the work God has called each of us to accomplish in this life.
When this happens, when each of us pursues our personal vocation and supports each other in doing so, there is abundance. And when we don’t? There is division.
God calls us to be His co-workers. He does this in the gifts He pours out on us in Holy Baptism.
But these gifts, given to us for God’s glory and our own salvation, also bind us to each other. This means that I can’t pursue my vocation without supporting you in yours. And this is true not simply for me but for you and for each of us.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! Unity in the Church is found in the gifts God has given each of us personally in Holy Baptism. These gifts bind us to Him and to each other in love. So let us exercise our gifts and, in so doing, love God and one each other.