Saturday, September 4, 2010

What Do You Possess That Was Not Given To You? But, If You Have Received It All As A Gift, Why Take The Credit For Yourself?

Saturday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Corinthians 4:6b-15
Brothers and sisters:
Learn from myself and Apollos
not to go beyond what is written,
so that none of you will be inflated with pride
in favor of one person over against another.
Who confers distinction upon you?
What do you possess that you have not received?
But if you have received it,
why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?
You are already satisfied; you have already grown rich;
you have become kings without us!
Indeed, I wish that you had become kings,
so that we also might become kings with you.

For as I see it, God has exhibited us Apostles as the last of all,
like people sentenced to death,
since we have become a spectacle to the world,
to angels and men alike.
We are fools on Christ's account,
but you are wise in Christ;
we are weak, but you are strong;
you are held in honor, but we in disrepute.
To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty,
we are poorly clad and roughly treated,
we wander about homeless and we toil,
working with our own hands.
When ridiculed, we bless;
when persecuted, we endure;
when slandered, we respond gently.
We have become like the world's rubbish,
the scum of all, to this very moment.

I am writing you this not to shame you,
but to admonish you as my beloved children.
Even if you should have countless guides to Christ,
yet you do not have many fathers,
for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.
The reading continues from yesterday’s passage. Paul has been describing himself and Apollos as stewards or managers of God’s message. The focus should be totally on the message rather than on the messengers. (Good advice for today’s Church!) As Paul says elsewhere, the messengers are just leaking vessels, vessels of brittle clay. The Corinthians therefore should not be taking sides and pitting one messenger against another, accepting one and rejecting the other. They have no right to be doing such a thing.

They should “keep to what is written”. This may refer to Scripture or the written traditions and teachings that had been passed on to them.

The Corinthians themselves can only make judgements based on the teaching they were given and they should not act as if their ideas were their own. “Is it that you have everything you want - that you are rich already, in possession of your kingdom, with us left outside?”

There is a strong element of irony and sarcasm here as Paul points out their arrogance coupled with their spiritual poverty in comparison with those by whom they were taught.

He wishes it could be otherwise so Paul could share in their “riches” but the sad fact is that those “riches” do not exist.

And, in spite of their calling to be apostles, missionaries and teachers, Paul and his fellow-evangelisers they seem to be at the very bottom of the social ladder. “God has put us at the end of his parade.” It is as if Paul and the other evangelisers were numbered last in the line of condemned men called to fight for their lives in the gladiatorial arena and on display before the whole world.

There is more irony as Paul mockingly compares his position with the imagined superiority of the Corinthians. “We are fools for Christ’s sake, while you are the learned men in Christ; we have no power, but you are influential; you are celebrities, we are nobodies.” The fact was, as he had reminded them earlier, they were neither learned nor powerful nor influential. They came from the lower strata of their society.

On the other hand, what Paul says of himself was largely true. He proceeds to give a litany of the trials and hardships he and his companions have to go through to fulfil their mission of proclaiming Christ to the world. They are hungry and inadequately clothed; beaten and homeless; they work hard to support themselves. (We know that Paul supported himself as a tent-maker.)

But, following the teaching and example of their Master, they turn the other cheek to all the abuse showered on them. When cursed, they bless; when hounded, they put up with it; when insulted, they respond with politeness. They are seen as the refuse and scum of the earth. And - it seems to be implied - some of this abuse comes from the Corinthians themselves.

Paul is saying all this not to shame or condemn them but to bring them “to their senses”, to help them realise the real meaning of the Gospel they have been called on to embrace. They may have “10,000 guardians in Christ” but they should remember they have only one father, only one person who originally established the Gospel among them and that person is Paul. “It was I who begot you in Christ Jesus by preaching the Good News (Gospel).”

All too often we hear Church leaders and pastors being criticised and sometimes with justification. But we do need to remember that, from top to bottom, we are a Church of flawed people. And so, we should keep in mind what Paul says - namely, that what we really need to focus on is the Message rather than the messengers. Some people abandon the Message on the basis of the behaviour of one or two messengers. Sometimes this is a rationalisation for not accepting the Message. We might remember Jesus’ words about being too conscious about the splinter in the eye of the other while there is a large beam of wood in our own. Messengers have had their shortcomings since the very beginning. Just look at Peter and Paul. The Gospel, too, is addressed equally to all and the same fidelity is required of every member and not more from some and less from others.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 145
The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.
The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him,
he hears their cry and saves them.
The LORD keeps all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
May my mouth speak the praise of the LORD,
and may all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
Luke 6:1-5
While Jesus was going through a field of grain on a sabbath,
his disciples were picking the heads of grain,
rubbing them in their hands, and eating them.
Some Pharisees said,
"Why are you doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?"
Jesus said to them in reply,
"Have you not read what David did
when he and those who were with him were hungry?
How he went into the house of God,
took the bread of offering,
which only the priests could lawfully eat,
ate of it, and shared it with his companions?"
Then he said to them,
"The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath."
Yet another confrontation between Jesus and some Pharisees. Following immediately, as it does, after the parable about the patch and the wineskins, it confirms what Jesus said about the gap between the traditionalists and his vision.

He and his disciples were walking through a cornfield and it was a sabbath day. The disciples were plucking heads of corn, rubbing them in their hands and eating them. The sabbath did not forbid walking short distances. And custom did not forbid “gleaning”, that is, taking corn left over by reapers. It did forbid reaping and threshing. Only a very narrow-minded interpretation could have described plucking as reaping and rubbing between the hands as threshing but that seems to be what is happening here.

The disciples are asked, “Why are you doing something that is forbidden on the sabbath day?” Jesus answers very quickly and to the point. He makes no reference to the narrow-minded legalism that his critics reveal, the “old wineskin” mentality. Instead, he throws at them an incident. David and his men were hungry so they went into the house of God and, with his approval, ate the holy bread which only the priests were allowed to eat (1 Samuel 21:6). Each sabbath, 12 loaves of fresh bread were set on a table in the Holy Place. The stale bread was eaten by the priests.

As king, David put himself above the law. Both David’s and the disciples’ actions involved godly men doing something forbidden by law. However, it is never a violation of a law to do what is good and to save life (eating for survival). In that sense both David and the disciples were within the spirit, though not the letter, of the law.

And Jesus, too, is above the law, “The Son of Man is master of the sabbath.” Jesus has the authority to overrule man-made laws concerning the Sabbath, particularly as interpreted by the Pharisees. This does not mean, of course, that Jesus (or even God for that matter) can or will do anything he feels like doing. Jesus will never go against anything that involves the True or the Good; with his Father he is the Source of all that is true and good.

But many of the Jewish laws (like civil laws) are positive law. In themselves, they involve matters which are neither good nor bad. In itself, it is neither good nor bad to stop at a green light or go through a red one. It is neither good nor bad in itself to abstain from work on the sabbath. What makes these acts good or bad is the deeper good of which they are a sign. That deeper good may sometimes involve their non-observance. Hunger and survival may over-ride a rule to fast. In a matter of extreme urgency it may be necessary to drive (safely) through a red light. The letter of the law is violated but not the good it intends.

Some manuscripts of Luke contain a very pertinent saying at this point: “On the same day, seeing a man working on the sabbath day, Jesus said to him: ‘Friend, if you know what you are doing, you are blessed; but if you do not know, you are accursed as a breaker of the Law’.” (Jerusalem Bible, loc. cit.) That is a sentiment that goes with new wine and new wineskins.

If truth and goodness are not violated by doing or not doing something, can we say there is sin or evil there?*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

Paul's epistle and recent Gospel readings show clearly that argument is not a recent thing among those who aspire to be God's people!

Jesus' teachings to the Pharisees are there to help us too. In today's reading, Jesus seems to equate Himself to David and the Pharisees to Saul's men, so perhaps we should look to that relationship to guide us through difficult relationships in the Church, in particular that between traditionalists and modernizers.

At the time that Saul was persecuting David, Saul was painfully aware that the Lord had rejected him. Samuel had even torn Saul's cloak, signifying Saul's loss of kingly authority. However, Saul did not realize that the authority had already passed to someone else, nor who that person might be. Unknown to Saul David had recently been quietly anointed by Samuel.

Perhaps Jesus is telling the Pharisees some harsh truths: that they have failed like Saul, that furthermore they know they have failed, and that they also know they have no real authority any more - what they have is just a face-saving sham. He invites them to entertain the notion that someone unregarded, perhaps even persecuted by them, might have been given true authority instead.

David came to Saul with 5 loaves of bread, a wineskin and a kid. This wineskin could stand for his annointing. The torn cloak Jesus describes is also reminiscent of Saul's torn cloak. Jesus reminds the Pharisee about the five loaves David requested from Ahimelech - this in turn must have reminded him that David had brought Saul five loaves when he turned up at the palace as his unrecognized but duly annointed successor.

Did David bring an old wineskin full of fine, matured wine and a willingness to obey the Lord where Saul would not? .. or a new one, as young and lively as his own loving heart? I think it is significant that the Bible does not tell us, because in fact King David combined the best of both - he loved the Law.

Despite all their arguments, Saul ultimately called David his son and David finally avenged Saul's death out of respect for Saul's own anointing. For this reason, I believe that one day traditionalists will claim modernizers as their own and modernizers will vigorously defend traditionalists - one day!