First Epistle to the Corinthians
In this, one of the greatest of the Pauline Epistles, we see how the life of Saint Paul is linked to Christ’s. He affirms incessantly that he is an apostle like the others, because of his relationship to Jesus. He does not take a step that is not in relation to Jesus. He knows no-one except in Jesus Christ and nothing if not in him.
In the opening ten verses, we see ten times over the repetition of the name of Jesus and we know that the name signifies the person, since all is fulfilled in Jesus: grace, peace, witness, thanksgiving, firmness in faith, fellowship, kerygma, wisdom, justice, holiness, neighbourly relations with faithful and unbelievers, philosophical thought, the events of the Old Testament, Christian tradition, relations between men and women, relations between the faithful in Jesus Christ in Church, faith, hope, charity, struggle (jihad), passions, sufferings, the cross, death and resurrection, victory: all that is in Jesus. Paul is “called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God.” (1: 1) “to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” (1: 2) “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1: 9)
The subject of Saint Paul’s preaching is “Christ crucified.” (1:23) Others may preach about whomsoever they will, but the subject of Paul’s pride is Jesus and his cross, for “Christ Jesus…of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” (1:30) Therefore, he knows nothing of those in Corinth, “save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (2: 2) The true link between a pastor and his parish, between priest and faithful is Jesus, in and through Jesus.
Paul accepts each and every one of the people of Corinth, including the crucified, suffering and doubting. He knows every person in Jesus Christ and accepts him, despite his poverty, pain, illness, weakness, errors and distress, since, for him, the other has become Jesus Christ himself.
Paul has no trust in his considerable education in Hellenistic thought or even in his knowledge of the Bible that he had received at the hands of the great masters of the Law. Paul has “the mind of Christ.” (2:16) He is “of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (4: 1) He plants, waters and builds, but the foundation laid “is Jesus Christ.” (3:11) “For all things are yours…And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's.” (3:21, 23) This principle explains the complementarity of things, the order to be followed and instituted between them, their value, order and importance in the life of the faithful. There can be no foundation, no value, no construction without Christ.
It is what Saint Paul experienced in his apostolic life, as he describes, with all its concomitant features; sufferings, disdain, insults, persecutions, as he says, “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake.. we are weak, ..we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; and labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” (4: 9-13) This is a disturbing and painful description of Saint Paul’s life, but in and for Christ. His sufferings resemble Christ’s and are the signs of a new birth. Paul engenders the Corinthian faithful; he is their father, mother, master, servant and the one who gives birth to them in Christ.
Saint Paul asks the faithful at Corinth to imitate him, as he imitates Christ. (11:1) So they become the temple of Christ, as the members of their body are the members of Christ. (12:12) They must respect these members, as they respect Christ himself in them: so they glorify God in their members.
The subject of the message proclaimed in the preaching of Paul’s Gospel, is first and last, Christ. So he proclaims the Gospel of Christ, without seeking reward – freely. “Woe to me, if I preach not!” and he bears everything and is ready to lose all prerogatives, provided that there is never any obstacle to the Gospel of Christ. (9:12, 18) He does everything possible to advance his cause, striving, fighting for the Gospel. He becomes all things to all people, for the Gospel. For the Jews, he is Jewish; for those outside the Law he is without the Law; with the weak, he is weak; with the slave, he is a slave to all for Jesus Christ. (9:19-24)
For him, Christ is the rock. (10:4) Indeed, Jesus is the substance of Paul’s reading in all he has learned of the Torah from Jewish culture; he sees all the Old Testament symbolically linked to Christ. He explains all the events that happened in Jewish history with reference to the Gospel of Christ. He understands them all through Christ, for all are “written for our admonition.” (10:11)
Furthermore, human relations are based on Christ. That applies to relationships between man and woman, or wife and husband, as “the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” (11:3) Here we find a real pyramidal view of human relations, with different kinds and conditions of human beings. This arrangement safeguards the dignity, rights, identity and uniqueness of each individual. There can be neither servility nor haughtiness; neither pride, violence nor domination: each assumes his or her rightful place and dignity through a personal relationship to Christ in God, who has created all people equally in his image and likeness.
Saint Paul moves on to discuss the Eucharist, which is the real, fundamental link with Christ, for the Eucharist is Christ. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (10:16) The faithful who celebrate the Mystical Supper and the sacrament of the Eucharist become one in Christ. (11:23-28) Besides, they themselves become the body of Christ, being transformed into Christ. “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” (12:27) All the members of the body are united among themselves. All the gifts possessed by the members in that body, which is the Church, are linked to it and are at the service of all its members. (Chapter 12) From that may be understood again that whole pyramidal relationship in the Church, the relationship of master to servant, bishop with priests, religious superior with monks or nuns, Patriarch with bishops and they with him, the relationship of the Pope, the highest authority in the Church, with the bishops and the faithful. Therein lies the real link between Petrine primacy and episcopal collegiality. These teachings of Paul on the topic of the body and its members are indeed the basis of the real meaning of Christian unity in the Church and of the search for unity among Christians. They describe the relationship of the members among themselves, of gifts, charismata, services and ministries in the Church that is the body of Christ.
On the basis of this, and according to this way of reasoning, one can understand the song of love in chapter thirteen. It is love (caritas) which is the primary, most important and greatest link between God and man, since God is love, and between human beings too, since they are children of God who is love.
These two chapters, twelve and thirteen, are the basis of all search for Christian unity, but we are, alas, very human and carnal and do not understand the true meaning of that love. All efforts in ecumenical work are halting and uncertain, lost in the quantity of papers, meetings, documents, visits, velleities of protocol, even theological dialogues, kisses, photos, magazine interviews and statements, as was very well expressed by the late Bishop Elias Zoghby, of blessed memory, in his book, We are all Schismatics, for we do not have the mind of Paul, Apostle of Jesus Christ.
May we, in this Jubilee Year of Saint Paul, come to understand the teachings of Paul and may we, like him, have the mind of Christ and then we shall be able to realise that Christian unity, to which all Christians aspire. I would not be exaggerating if I said that those who aspire least to this unity, are, unfortunately, Chief Pastors, while the faithful parishioners are very hungry and thirsty, longing for that unity which Jesus wanted, so that the world, which needs Jesus, might believe.
To summarise what Saint Paul often calls “his Gospel,” that he received from Jesus himself: it is “how … Christ died for our sins …was buried, and … rose again the third day.” (15:3, 4) Here again, he mentions his personal experience of encountering Christ risen from the dead, on the road to Damascus.
The resurrection of Jesus is central to the Gospel message of Saint Paul and of all the apostles. That is why the first Christians in our dear East were called children of the resurrection. “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” (15:14, 17) He adds, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (15:19)
This hope is what strengthens Saint Paul in his struggle. That is why he can say that he dies daily for Jesus. (15:31) That is why Saint Paul has the right to end this last chapter of the Epistle to the Corinthians with this triumphal song, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (15:54)
The first sentence of this letter contains the name of Christ and the last is an expression of love for Christ: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema. Maranatha. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.” (16:22-24)