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First Letter to the Corinthians: The Word of the Cross distinguishes between true and false wisdom
Posted on September 1st 2013 in St. Paul's Letters
The occasion of this first Letter to the Corinthians was a report as to the developing factions within the community based on social class and differences in the understanding of the faith. After having made some introductory remarks about the spirit-filled community, St Paul now explains that behind any so-called differences is the unifying work of God which should be made known through faith in Jesus Christ. The language of the Cross turns upside down the differences beloved by unredeemed mankind, and establishes a spiritual unity between all believers. The divisions expressed in the community are caused by none other than a failure to understand the faith.
The use of the expression ‘the word of the Cross’ is unique to this letter and it describes the historical situation through which the power of God has been made visible. This sign that contradicts all human expectations brings about a division between those who accept it and those who do not. In the religious imagination, the first group are being saved, while the second are already perishing. The use of the present tense emphasises that although the final judgement lies in the future, the consequences are already being experienced in anticipation. The explanation for accepting or not accepting the ‘Word of the Cross’ does not utilise concepts such as foolishness and wisdom. Human wisdom unaided by divine assistance, grace, cannot grasp the ways of God. The parallel mind-sets of both Jews and Greeks are not predisposed to hear this ‘Word of the Cross’. This raises the perennial question as to how it may be possible to believe in God. The Church has always maintained that anyone can know that God exists through the use of their reason, an argument taken from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans (1:18-31) but no-one can know God except through being exposed to the Gospel message (the kerygma (v21). The content of this preaching is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and also of His resurrection (15:11-12), which goes far deeper than simply the recognition of miraculous signs or some deeper source of meaning.
The theory of the just war is there to put a brake on violent solutions to complex issues.
Posted on September 1st 2013 in Weekly messages
The dramatic events on Thursday evening in the House of Commons have been picked over by countless journalists since then. The defeat for the government has been interpreted in myriad ways, but from the outside it only looks like common-sense had finally broken out over the complex issue of the Middle East. The use of chemical weapons is abhorrent and has no place in human conduct, but the consequent indiscriminate massacre of civilians was certainly not the first to take place during the Syrian civil war. Only a few months ago, a hundred Christians were massacred by Islamic fundamentalist rebels for simply being Christian. There have also been many stories of rape, and one Christian girl was raped by over a dozen men before being murdered and left lying with a crucifix thrust into her mouth. Little has been said in the newspapers or by Parliament, because this scenario does not fit into the preconceived packages in which such wars are reported. So far the war in Iraq and the ‘Arab Spring’ has led to the unintentional destruction of one ancient Christian culture in Iraq, the serious attack on another in Egypt, and more than likely the destruction of the ancient Syrian Christian churches as well. These were not the intended consequences of western action, but should have been foreseen since they provided an opportunity for those bent on religious violence.
It might well look naive when confronted with the forces of worldly power but the Christian invites dialogue to solve conflict, and places very strict conditions on the waging of war. The current civil war in Syria does not in any way match the criteria for a just war: the protection of civilians, absence of effective alternatives (to war), the prospect of success, and the lack of collateral damage. Those who initiated the violence have much to answer for, as does the regime of that country for failing to listen to genuine grievances. The application of just war theory in no way validates the current regime, but it tempers all attempts to descend further into the cycle of fruitless violence where the innocent are mostly those who suffer. To refuse to engage in war is not an act of cowardice or appeasement, since to create a culture is much more difficult than destroying one. The implied comparison between Bashir Assad and Adolf Hitler made by some MPs and commentators is not credible. The countries of the Near East are not the single people entities of popular imagination, nor has any external nation been threatened as of now. These countries contain a myriad mixture of religions, branches of Christianity and branches of Islam, peoples, and tribes.
The peoples of the Syria need our humanitarian support and the Christians of both Egypt and Syria need our prayers as they live with the daily probability of martyrdom. They must have courageous faith and they are a salutary lesson to us all.
To reject the possibility of war might look at this stage the weakest option, but this outbreak of common sense in the House of Commons, might well lead to the other route, that of ceasefire and peace, an outcome for which we must all pray.
St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: Divisions in the community (1:10-17)
Posted on August 25th 2013 in St. Paul's Letters
The Letter began with St Paul identifying himself as an Apostle, and the community as the ‘Church of God’. The vocation of the Apostle was to preach the Gospel throughout the known world, but also to insist on the truths of faith in front of opposition or confusion. The community is also described as ‘the people of Jesus Christ’, and from the beginning St Paul is developing an understanding of the Church both as the ‘People of God’ and the ‘Body of Christ’. St Paul writes this Letter to a community who find their true identity in relationship with God and each other within Jesus Christ.
St Paul now emphasises that the life of the Christian is animated and sustained by the Holy Spirit, received through the sacrament of Baptism. The community has shown admirably how these gifts have been utilised by its members in the intermediary time before the final coming. Looking back nearly two thousand years later, St Paul’s conviction of the imminent coming seems premature, but the lesson holds true that, for each Christian, life on earth is a prelude to the last day of judgement. This ‘day’ throws a positive light on the Christian life, since having been justified through Jesus’ death and Resurrection, God will remain faithful to His action. Therefore, to commit one’s life to Christ gives meaning and creates something of lasting value.
St Paul connects the titles of Jesus Christ together. Jesus died on the Cross. Once He rose from the dead He is confirmed as being the Christ, though this reality was largely hidden during His public life. The resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and the descent of the Holy Spirit confirms Jesus Christ as Lord, Son of God. Jesus Christ is now joined to each believer as Lord and giver of the Holy Spirit.
The community of Corinth was a Spirit filled community, but this did not insulate them from the all too human failure of division and creation of competing parties. The community is literally being ripped apart, the word being that for a cloth being torn (sxisma – v10) The unifying power of the Holy Spirit requires human co-operation to fulfil its mandate. These divisions might have originated from the fact that the community met in different houses to celebrate the agape meal before the Eucharist, the mistaken celebration of which will become a topic for a later chapter.
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