3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Becoming Closer to Christ and Each Other

Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, Caravaggio
c. 1603 – 1606, Hampton Court Palace

He said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
At once they left their nets and followed him.
(Matthew 4:19–20)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 1:10–13, 17
January 21, 2023

In a previous assignment, I sent a group of parishioners to a leaders’ meeting to organize for a neighborhood initiative. When the time came to energy where they were from, they called out “Father Smith’s Church.” A Baptist minister who was present, a wise man and good friend, called me that night. He said that in his experience this was a sign of admiration and affection but also presented grave dangers. When a church becomes overidentified with any human being, it is in danger of losing sight of both Jesus and neighbor and is an invitation to factionalism. I addressed it with several homilies at Mass but not, alas, with the reading today. Human beings need affirmation and recognition, but Paul is reminding both leaders and followers that for Christians that can only come by putting Jesus first. Everything and everyone else are secondary.

As we noted last week, unity along with holiness and spiritual gifts are the themes of 1st Corinthians. It is the key issue, and he addresses it first. He has just blessed his readers telling them that:

God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship
with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

(1 Co 1:9)

His grace calls us to “fellowship.” This fellowship is being of one mind and heart. He takes this up today with:

I urge (parakaleō ) you, brothers,
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you agree in what you say,
and that there be no divisions (schisma) among you,
but that you be united (katartizō)
in the same mind and in the same purpose.

(1 Co 1:10)

The word we have translated as urge has a sense of immediacy that no English word can match. It is a cross between beg and command. His readers would know that Paul is putting his heart into this. He calls them brothers to show that his motivation, despite some very forceful words is affection and love.

He speaks in the name of Jesus. Names not only set someone apart from others but made that person in some way present. Therefore, Paul is speaking for Jesus. Jesus wants that the Corinthians agree on what they say. To “speak the same thing” was a classical expression that held that “everyone is on the same page.” It was often used after a disagreement to show that the problem had been settled and the division healed.

The root of the word we are translating as divisions is tear. The community is ripped. The word chosen for united, means mended or assembled. It is used in Matthew (4:21) and Mark (1:19) for mending torn nets and in Ephesians for equipping Christians to build up the body of Christ, (Eph 4:12). Paul is being very physical: divisions rip the church apart and it must be mended again.

We must note that he is not accusing anyone of heresy. These divisions are factions or cliques, but the danger is just as great as doctrinal irregularity.

This verse is a transition between the introduction and the body of the letter. Having told the Corinthians of the danger of faction and division he next tells them that he has heard that they may be found among them.

For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers,
by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you.

(1 Co 1:11)

We are not certain who Chloe was. She may have been the leader of a house church. If so, she may also have been a merchant with contacts in Ephesus where Paul was staying. In any event we can assume that she was known to the Corinthians and respected by them. He is still referring to the Corinthians as brothers, he still loves them, but he must take them to task for their rivalries.

I mean that each of you is saying,
“I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,”
or “I belong to Kephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”

(1 Co 1:12)

Paul, wisely, begins with those who feel attached to him. He shows that he does not want anyone to have particular loyalty to him but only to Jesus. It is just as wrong to be of his faction than Apollos or Kephas (Peter).

Why these groups and not others?

Paul was the founder of the community, and some may have felt loyalty from that. He was a Roman citizen who was able to be tried as Roman and indeed acquitted by the Roman judge Gallio (Ac 18:12-17.) He also chose the house of Titus Justus (a very Roman name) as his headquarters.

Apollos was a learned man who studied in Alexandria, a major center of learning that taught the use of rhetoric and allegory. His oratory would have been very polished and perhaps had some snob appeal. Paul went to great lengths to show that there was no animosity between himself and Apollos. They were speaking from the same page.

Kephas, Peter, had the prestige of being the head of the Twelve and perhaps even visited Corinth. He also represented the Palestinian roots of the church and may have appealed to a more traditionalist faction.

There is some difficulty identifying the party of Christ, but it most likely referred to people who did not believe in any intermediary between Jesus and themselves. We have many people like this today who see no real need for the church after they have been evangelized themselves.

Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul

(1 Co 1:13)

Paul is being sarcastic here. Does each of these groups have a part of Jesus. Is he divided in four pieces. Or perhaps best is Christ divided against himself.

He continues with this by reminding the Corinthians that he, Paul, was not crucified for them. They were not saved by his blood. It is interesting that Paul does not develop this here. It showed that Jesus as sacrificial victim was accepted by everyone at a very early date.

Thus, they could not be baptized into Paul. To have the name of someone was to be their property. Legal contracts moved the property from one name to another. Baptism was to be joined to the name of Jesus to be his property. This was an Old Testament understanding. One example:

You are in our midst, O LORD,
your name we bear:
do not forsake us!

(Je 14:9)

Baptism seems to have been part of this problem of factions. Some people had special alliance to the person who baptized them. Paul takes several verses, not used this week (1 Cor 1: 14-16) to show that he baptized only one family in Corinth.

He in no way disparaged Baptism or those who prepare people for it but that this is not his role:

For Christ did not send me to baptize
but to preach the gospel,
and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,
so that the cross of Christ
might not be emptied (Kenōthē ) of its meaning.

(1 Co 1:17)

(Emptied of its meaning is a good translation but I prefer that of the Jerusalem bible: so that the cross of Christ not be made “pointless”.)

He has no patience with faction but he recognized and applauded function. He will expand this further on in this letter with the image of the body (12:12–30).

He acknowledges the importance of what we now call religious education and a note on preaching. Human eloquence meant rhetorical techniques which were the sign of learning. Apollos was applauded for that, and we see this in Luke and the author of the letter to the Hebrews. Then as now there is a danger that showmanship can take the place of substance and we lose the gospel itself. The cross stubbornly refuses to be gilded, it is always real and always raw.

The church on every level from St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican to St. Charles Borromeo in Brooklyn Heights is seeking to speak with one voice to a divided world. There will be many initiatives and innovations. Some will be more successful than others. But Paul is telling us plainly that unless we are brought closer to Christ and each other then everything will have been pointless.