The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
2017 – Cycle A
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Do you get annoyed when people are speaking, usually quite loudly, on their cell phones in public places? Especially an enclosed space like an elevator? And then, you get the look. The look that alerts you that you are not supposed to be listening in on their conversation, the space having been commandeered as their private place that you are invading. But you’ve already made assumptions about the conversation and who they are talking with by the tone of voice and pieces of garnered information.
We Catholics are caught, if you will, in a spiritual elevator every week in the Liturgy. We listen to a letter. And like a phone conversation we are only privy to half the dialogue. “A reading from the beginning of the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians”. First letter? There’s more than one? And the Corinthians, who are they? Why is Paul writing to them? Why are we purposefully listening in on this conversation?
The Greek city-state of Corinth was one of the great seaports of the ancient world located roughly halfway between the city-states of Athens and Sparta. The apostle Paul as we know goes beyond his own Jewish nation to preach the gospel to the Gentile world. And so he visits Corinth around the year 51. When I say preached the gospel, I mean preach because at this time there is no written Gospels of Mark or Matthew, Luke or John. Paul only has a spoken message of God’s love and forgiveness, a crucified God, Jesus of Nazareth, who is considered Saviour of the world and his own lived example with which to approach and encounter the Corinthians. Consider that closely, a message of God’s love and forgiveness, a Jew, Jesus of Nazareth crucified by the Roman government and Paul’s lived example.
Would any of us put forward our life as an example for others to follow Jesus Christ? The image of Christ crucified has never been a good marketing ploy, has it? Over centuries, even we Christians have softened the horrific reality of Jesus’ death into jewelry and bloodless masterpieces of art. That leaves Paul with only God’s Spirit to rely on.
Beginning today until the Sunday before Lent, we will listen in on excerpts from the first four chapters of this first letter Paul writes to the Corinthian Church that he founded and now from a distance continues to pastor. I encourage you to read those chapters in their fullness as together we reflect each Sunday.
Who were the people of the church of God in Corinth? This young gathering of Christians has been described as conceited, stubborn, over-sensitive, argumentative, infantile and pushy. Do any of those words describe us? With a gathering of people like this, is it no wonder that there are lots of problems in this community? Paul has heard all about it from personal reports and thus the occasion for this letter.
The question and point that underlies Paul’s letter is, “What does it mean to be church?” “…to be a gathering in God?” In his opening greeting, much more elaborate than our simple, “Dear John…”, Paul describes that the members of the church are those who have been made holy by Jesus Christ, called to remain in that holiness, and are connected with believers everywhere who profess faith in Jesus.
To be church means to be made holy. We do not earn nor can we achieve holiness. That is difficult to understand in a consumerist and competitive culture like our own where everything has a price. Holiness cannot be bought, it can only be received. It is a free gift of God first expressed in baptism and renewed weekly in the Eucharist. Holiness is also a response, a participation in God’s holiness calling us to certain types of behavior on our part. Is not therefore one of the most serious accusations against Christians, hypocrisy? Conceited, stubborn, over-sensitive, argumentative, infantile and pushy…can we understand why Paul begins his letter with a reminder of the call to and response of holiness? We Christians are called to act in a certain way not in order become holy but in order to be consistent with the holiness we have already received. We have a tendency to think of the call to holiness as a project we work at as if it were a personal self-improvement program. Holiness is being open to and mindful of the life that has been implanted in each of us and more strongly infused in the community. That is why you cannot be a solitary Christian. We are only Christian living out holiness within a living community.
- Therefore, how do you experience the Christian people who gather in Oneonta under the patronage of Saint Mary as holy?
- After 134 years, do we like the young Christian community of Corinth, have our problems? What are they? How can each of us contribute to being one with each other, one with the wider Church and grow deeper in holiness?
- How do you live the consistent life of holiness that was given to you in Baptism?
“Grace to you and peace
from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”