This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
SYRIAN REFUGEES NEED NEW CAMP IN JORDAN
I CORINTHIANS 4: 6-15
I’ve illustrated this argument for you, brothers, with the example of myself and Apollos, so that you may learn through us, that nobody should inflate the reputation of one man over another. For who notices you? What do you have that you didn’t receive? And if you did receive it, why boast as if you didn’t? Oh yes, already you’re stuffed full! Already you’re plutocrats! You’ve entered into your kingdom, without our help! Well, I wish you had, so that we could reign with you.
For it seems to me that God has exhibited us apostles at the back of the victory parade, like enemies condemned to death, so that we’ve become theatre for the cosmos, for angels and for men. We are morons for Christ but you are such sensible Christians; we are weak but you are strong; you are distinguished but we are despised. Right up to this moment, we are hungry and thirsty, we go half-naked, we are beaten up, we are homeless. We tire ourselves working with our own hands. Cursed, we bless; persecuted, we bear it; slandered, we give a soft answer. We are the scum of the earth, off-scourings of humanity, to this very moment.
I’m not writing this to shame you, but to bring you to your senses, as my dear children. For, even if you had ten thousand tutors in Christ, you wouldn’t have many fathers, for in Messiah Jesus, through the Good News, I fathered you.” (In my own translation)
Paul had established the church in Corinth through his announcement of the gospel. Now he sees signs that some of his converts imagine that God’s favour lifts them at one bound from ordinary existence into kingdom- come because of their own spiritual gifts. His question to them is deadly and should be used to deflate any kind of arrogance: what do you have that you did not receive? Paul thinks they’ve allowed themselves to vanish into hallelujah land while neglecting the responsibilities of disciplined living and communal concern. His passionate outburst is of course calculated to “bring them to their senses” by its unsparing description of the apostolic calling.
The first image he uses is of the defeated enemies placed at the rear of a Roman Triumphal Procession, stumbling towards execution. The powerful of the world march proudly onwards while the messengers of Messiah Jesus are made to look like failures. As opposed to the “moronic” behaviour of the messengers, the Corinthians seem sensible, strong, and distinguished and doubtless would be considered good advertisements for their faith, role models for middle class Corinthian children. In exasperation Paul reminds these paragons of faith of the deprivations and degradations endured by Messiah’s messengers in communicating the gospel.They have learned to stand at the foot of the social pyramid in order to communicate the gospel freely to all conditions of humanity. He asks them to remember that from just such a bedraggled spiritual father, they received their faith.
Perhaps a truly saintly apostle would not have noticed his own sufferings, nor referred to them publicly, as Paul does here. That’s what makes Paul so helpful to his readers: he’s not a super-saint, quietly and humbly doing his duty. He’s an irascible, passionate, impatient man, committed to being a soldier for Messiah Jesus and wearing his scars with pride. Just a modest investigation into his missionary travels across Turkey and Greece puts my commitment as a Christian Minister into proper perspective. Paul is a tough act, unwilling to let anyone think faith is not arduous.