22 Jan 2017
“I appeal to you … that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you …” (1 Cor. 1:10)
In the name …
What does this sentence mean? What does it mean to us today, what did it mean to Paul when he wrote it, and does it have any impact outside of the church? Paul’s is an amazing story that we started to talk about last Sunday. He had to fight during his entire ministry to convince some in the church that he was called by Jesus to be an apostle, that he was authentic and that his teachings were legitimate. He was different and he taught a different kind of Christian faith than many of those who came before him. I’ll try and be as brief as possible with this story, but I think it’s worth the time because difference is a reality we need to deal with and not only in the church.
Paul created a problem where there wasn’t a problem before. Prior to Paul the church was Jewish with a smattering of non-Jews. Paul changed that. He started bringing in more and more Gentiles, and the ones who came before him started to resent his success and the change he was forcing upon them. The church was starting to look different. They wanted Paul to make his converts and his church more like theirs by worshipping Jesus but also by keeping their Jewish traditions. Paul refused and obviously his example won because the Christianity we practice today tells us so.
But Paul was very concerned about maintaining the unity of the church, and so he sat down with the others and the others sat down with him. They came to an agreement. Paul would continue his ministry unchanged, but he was asked to help the church in Jerusalem by accepting a collection wherever he went. For you see the Jerusalem church imitated the example of Jesus’ lifestyle. They owned nothing individually. They pooled everything they had into a community treasury. Jesus traveled from here to there and never worried about food or clothing or shelter, and neither did the church in Jerusalem, and because of this they were poor. But their example was considered to be so important that the rest of the church was supposed to help them keep Jesus’ example alive. And this Paul was willing to do with his collections in every city he visited.
This is an extremely important example of what Paul means when he says to the Corinthians that they must be in agreement, that there be no divisions among them. Paul remained different. That never changed. But different didn’t mean division. Take for example the quick mention of “Chloe’s people” in today’s reading. Chloe is a woman’s name. “Chloe’s people” means that Chloe was a church leader in Corinth. There is probably no way that the earlier church leaders before Paul would ever have allowed something like this to happen, but in Paul’s churches it’s mentioned without comment, almost like it was nothing extraordinary. This was just the way it was in Paul’s different churches. This is the same Paul who told the Galatians that there is neither male nor female in Christ Jesus. Gender was not as important as spirit for Paul. So differences are real, but division does not have to flow from them, and that’s the lesson I think we need to think about, and that we need to take out of this place and out into the world.
Paul doesn’t hide his head in the sand and act like differences aren’t real or that they don’t matter. People can be passionate. But he reminds the Corinthians that there is something far greater than that which would separate, and that is their shared faith in Jesus. That which holds them together is far more important than that which would try to separate them. This is a message worth listening to. Just like Paul had sat down with the others and the others sat down with Paul so that his different churches would stay united with the older Jerusalem church, Paul is challenging the Christians in Corinth to do the exact same thing, to sit down and talk with those who believe differently and to see how they all fit together as church. He’s basically telling them that they don’t have to be the same, but they have to respect each other, and their differences, and that they need to find out how community is more than uniformity. He reminds them that no one was baptized in Paul’s name. Apollos’ name or Peter’s, that they were all baptized in Jesus’ name. The message is to look past the differences and to seek out the greater unity.
Our faith overflows with the message that we need to not only allow for difference, but that we have to embrace it. Think about Paul. His idea of church is the church we live in today, but it was the different church in his day. Even though his pedigree wasn’t nearly as convincing as Peter’s who was one of the first ones called by Jesus, or James who was the leader of the Jerusalem church and who is called the brother of Jesus in the New Testament (Gal. 1:19), it is nonetheless Paul’s idea of church that we follow today. Or think about Jesus walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. What if those first four apostles chose not to listen to His new preaching? Then what would have happened? Or remember that today’s Gospel closes with the announcement that Jesus begins to travel throughout Galilee proclaiming His new and different message. It was only the ones who could at least listen to the different that had a chance of coming to Christ. And it was because of this tradition of difference that the church could grow as a community of really different people who were held together by a really different Saviour, a Saviour who looked past those things that kept people separated and who instead tried to bring people together.
This may be the job of church in today’s world. This may be the task of Christians in today’s society. Maybe we’re being called upon to speak and to live this message of a community that is stronger than our differences. Maybe we have to be another kind of different so that we can interrupt the voices that want to pull people apart. Maybe we can share Paul’s message once again that difference doesn’t have to mean division. I hope we can pray this together as a church, a society, a nation, a society of nations so that we can always do our best to stay together. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo