January 26, 2014/ click on left end of black bar to play-pause
Fr. George Smiga
January 26, 2014
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Today’s second reading is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This letter was probably written in the year 54, and it is one of the earliest writings of the New Testament. But reading today’s passage is discouraging, because it makes clear that from the beginning of our faith tradition, Christians were disagreeing with one another. There were divisions at Corinth. You can hear the slogans in the reading today that each of the factions adopted to prove that it was right: “I belong to Paul.” “I belong to Apollos.” “I belong to Cephas.” “I belong to Christ.”
Paul knew that the Christian community was divided. He wrote this letter to Corinth deeply concerned. What is important for us to realize is why Paul was so concerned. Paul was not motivated by some simple idea that people should be nice to one another. Nor was he moved by the true human wisdom that things go better when people cooperate. Paul was upset about the divisions in Corinth for a profoundly religious reason. He states it at the end of today’s reading. Paul was disturbed by the divisions at Corinth, because if Christians were divided, “the cross of Christ would be emptied of its meaning.”
For Paul, Jesus’ work, Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ sacrifice would not make sense if we, as Christians, were divided one from another. And Paul believed this for an even deeper reason which he explained later in the letter. Paul believed that those who followed Christ were the Body of Christ in the world. Christ was present on earth through them. This body of Christ lived because it was united in one faith and animated by one spirit. This is why Christians cannot be divided. They are members of a living body. And if the members of the body are divided, that body will die.
Now, imagine Paul’s horror if he came back today and saw the way we Christians live. We are not simply divided into factions. We are divided into distinct religious denominations. We not only have our own slogans, we have our own liturgies and our own confessions. We are Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, and Pentecostals—each believing that we have the truth. We are a divided, each of us worshipping God in distinct church buildings scattered throughout the world. Is Christ divided? He is. And his body is wounded, struggling to survive.
Now, all of us have lived our lives in a world in which Christians have been divided. So we are tempted to think that such a condition is normal and acceptable. It is not. We continue to think that we can give adequate praise and glory to God separated into our various churches. But, when Christians are divided, our praise is minimalized and compromised. We have just finished a week that we celebrate every year: the International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We should pray for Christian unity. But it is important that we do not pray from a stance of superiority. We cannot pray with the attitude that union means that everyone agrees with us. Instead, we must pray for unity with profound humility and repentance, knowing that our Church is wounded, that Christ’s body is broken.
So as we celebrate this Eucharist today, let us pray that the Spirit of God will make us keenly aware of that brokenness. Let us pray that we might be healed of every attitude, judgment, and conviction that keeps us divided from one another. Let us pray that there will come a day when a united body of Christ can receive the body of Christ from the same table. This cannot be an idle prayer. This must be a deep and constant prayer. For as long as we remain divided from one another, the cross of Christ is emptied of its meaning.