The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew,
Caravaggio, c. 1603–1606, Hampton Court (London)
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Cor 15: 1–11
February 6, 2022
For the four weeks of February, our second reading for Mass will be from the 15th Chapter of 1st Corinthians. This is an unusual amount of time to be devoted to one chapter, but it is one of the most important parts of the New Testament. As we will see it is a clear, concise, and profound proclamation and examination of the basics of our faith. Last week, we read the great “Marriage Reading” from the 13th Chapter of 1 Corinthians and noted that however powerful it is in itself, it is even more meaningful when we understand it in the context of the entirety of the letters to the Corinthians. We will find the same with examining this chapter. Paul’s intention is more than preaching solid doctrine but in forming a solid community.
Today he emphasizes proclamation and will give us the most succinct creed in the Bible.
Paul first reminds the Corinthians that he preached the good news to them, and they accepted it from him. This good news is not just information but the living presence of God: “Through it you are also being saved.” (1 Cor 15:2) Salvation not only comes from Jesus but is also an ongoing process. Paul who had the most famous “born again” experience on the road to Damascus nonetheless realizes that salvation is not a once and for all experience, but an ongoing process. This has become not only a key Catholic belief but one that has divided us from other Christians for centuries.
Paul next reminds the Corinthians that this is not something that he himself devised or even what was merely revealed to him but part of the common Christian tradition. He writes: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received.” (1 Co 15:2) Paul is a creative interpreter of the Gospel not its inventor. He will take great pains to show that he is passing on what he has previously received. Earlier he wrote to the Corinthians about the Eucharist: “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread.” (1 Co 11:23)
He then states the essence of the Gospel:
that Christ died
for our sins
in accordance with the scriptures
that he was buried;
that he was raised
on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures;
that he appeared to Kephas, then to the Twelve
It is most likely that Paul is using a formula that at least some in the community would have known before. Most would have immediately observed and appreciated the literary techniques used to express so much so clearly and concisely. We, however, need to stop to examine the structure.
The creed is divided into two sections each with four elements which exactly parallel each other:
AFFIRMATION ABOUT CHRIST
REFERENCE TO THE SCRIPTURES
SECOND AFFIRMATION THAT STRENGTHENED THE FIRST ONE
Christ died. This was not incidental but the first step in “being saved.”
He immediately adds the reason for our sins. Jesus came not in spite our sins but because of them. To free us he made the ultimate sacrifice.
This was so great and act of love that strengthened no one could have reasoned him or herself to this it can be understood only by reflecting on the Jewish Scriptures. We should not become too concerned with finding direct predictions for this. As we will see when we further explore into 1 Cor 15, the concept of resurrection which the early church received was the rebirth of the entire Jewish people. Jews, such as the Pharisees, expanded this to require the resurrection of individuals as well. Nonetheless the mysterious suffering servant passages from Isaiah may be truly prophetic. One of which is excerpted below (see the appendix for the full passage):
For ancient peoples buried was the sign that death and truly occurred.
The creed continues with:
He was raised. The word used egēgertai is in the perfect passive. The passive tense is often called the “divine passive,” it is a sign that God is working. In our terms, it is the Father who raises Jesus from the dead. This is not to deny Jesus’ divinity, but to emphasize that his resurrection was God directed. The perfect tense which could best if awkwardly be translated as “being raised” demonstrates that this is a continuing action of God and that still has an effect in our lives.
Three days has many possible antecedents in Scripture, but it is best to take its most minimal meaning: Jesus was truly dead, so could be truly raised.
This again is according to the Scriptures. Again, we are reminded that we are not to search for individual texts but to see the resurrection of Jesus and the continuation in our own lives as the fulfillment of the entire mission of the Jewish people as reflected in our common scriptures.
Appeared emphasizes that this is an objective fact not a subjective feeling. The witnesses experienced the real Jesus not a vision or in a dream
He then lists people to whom Jesus appeared. There are two points of importance.
Although all the Gospels state that the first witnesses were women they are not included. Paul is making a legal point and women could not be witnesses in a legal proceeding. Like Luke, he emphasizes that there are still people who are alive who would have had a “resurrection” appearance of Jesus.
The second is more personal. He states that the Lord appeared to him. An experience of the risen Lord was a requirement for being an apostle. Apostle means “one sent.” Some among the Corinthians, as can be seen more clearly in 2 Corinthians, disputed his right to be called an apostle. Paul reminded them that apostleship is a call from God not a commission from a community and should be judged by its fruits.
The conclusion of this section “Therefore, whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” (1 Co 15:11) refers to the opening: “Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand.” (1 Co 15:1)
By accepting the Gospel from him, they are his fruit and accordingly prove his point that he is an apostle.
But what is their fruit? Paul’s apostleship has been successful but what about their discipleship? How can there be so many divisions among them if they believe that they are being saved by the gospel? As we are also in a very divided society and church, we need to ask the same question and as we prepare for Lent. Paul will help us do so. Whether in 1st century Greece or 21st century North America, the good news has been heard only when a community has been built.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.