8th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Embracing the Resurrection of the Body

The Parable of the Mote and the Beam,
Domenico Fetti, c. 1619 (The Met 5th Ave.)
(About this Image)

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?
(Luke 6:41–42)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Cor 15:54–58
February 27, 2022

We complete our reading of the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians today with the conclusion of Paul’s argument for the Resurrection of the Body. This is also the end of the teaching section of the entire letter. This topic is so important that the Church brings it to our attention for five Sundays. Even though we read it in greater detail than almost any other section of Scripture we still have skipped sections and today we must begin several verses before this week’s selection.

This I declare, brothers:
flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,
nor does corruption inherit incorruption.

(1 Co 15:50)

“This I declare” means pay attention. “Flesh and Blood” is a typical Jewish expression for the human body as a physical entity which of itself will decompose. As his audience was composed of many non-Jews, he translates this for them “as corruption.”

All ancient people were intimately aware of the fate of the human body. The Greeks who believed in the “immortality of the soul” believed the body was non-essential and disposable. Those Jews who believed in the resurrection of the body, the Pharisees, most likely believed that when the Messiah came, and the dead were raised they would be as they were in life

Paul corrects both:

Behold, I tell you a mystery.
We shall not all fall asleep,
but we will all be changed,

(1 Co 15:51)

For some of his readers, corruption was permanent and only those who were alive when Jesus returned would share in the kingdom, for others the dead would truly rise but only they would need or have a risen body. Paul is clearly teaching that everyone who will participate in the kingdom of God when Jesus returns whether they were alive at the time or not will have a risen body.

For that which is corruptible
must clothe itself with incorruptibility,
and that which is mortal
must clothe itself with immortality.

(1 Co 15:53)

Our passage today begins here. When that which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and the mortal with immortality the scriptures would be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

(1 Co 15:54–55)

This is presented as one passage but there are two passages read together. Rabbis thought that if the same word or idea was found in two passages from scripture, although from different ages and sources, they could be interpreted as one. Both the passages below mentioned death, so Paul yoked them together.

And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.

(Is 25:7–8)

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from Death?
O Death, where are your plagues?
O Sheol, where is your destruction?
Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

(Ho 13:14)

On first reading, it seems as if the second selection from the prophet Hosea is teaching something very different from Paul. That is correct. Hosea is warning the people in God’s name that if they continue their wickedness they will be destroyed: “Compassion is hidden from my eyes.”

Paul could read Hebrew, but it is likely that even literate Jews of Corinth could not. They would have read a Greek translation which read:

I will deliver them out of the power of Hades,
and will redeem them from death:
where is thy penalty, O death?
O Hades, where is thy sting?

Because of the Lovezz of God, death is robbed of its power and the entire person “body and soul” is transformed. This is a victory, and it is through Jesus.

But thanks be to God who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Co 15:57)

Paul does not say “gave” or “will give” victory but “gives” victory. He does not use the language of the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) but shares their understanding. The kingdom of God is already here but not yet completed. That will occur when Jesus returns but he still has a relationship with us and has given us a task to evangelize and indeed change the world.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast,
always fully devoted to the work of the Lord,
knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

(1 Co 15:58)

Because of the presence of the risen Lord in our community and individual lives we will have victory over every obstacle including death. It will never be in vain.

We have spent a lot of time with Paul since the beginning of the year. Besides the resurrection, we have examined his ideas on spiritual gifts and the composition of the Church. We have also seen much about the Corinthians and how they were very, perhaps overly, impressed with rhetorical tricks. Yet they can be very effective, especially when we realize that Paul expected people to reread his letters and he wanted to help them organize and remember his teaching. There were several examples of his in-today’s passage but to look at just one.

Chapter 15 began with

Now I am reminding you, brothers,
of the gospel I preached to you,
which you indeed received and in which you also stand.
Through it you are also being saved,
if you hold fast to the word I preached to you,
unless you believed in vain.

(1 Co 15:1–2)

He ends today with:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast,
always fully devoted to the work of the Lord,
knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

(1 Co 15:58)

This is called an inclusio. The author uses the same words or ideas both at the beginning and end of a text to show unity. It was also a mark of great skill and was pleasing to the readers. Paul today emphasizes that he is speaking with “brothers”—friends—and that they must stand in the truth (being steadfast) and through this the disciple will do God’s work and be saved and his or her life will not be in vain.

This technique also emphasizes that it is true only if embrace the resurrection of the Body. If we have understood, we might better say experienced the inclusio, then the words will be more powerful the second time around. The more we read “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain, and your faith has been in vain” (1 Co 15:14) the clearer we know that without the Resurrection it is our very lives that would be in vain.