The Beatitudes Sermon, James Tissot
c. 1890, Brooklyn Museum
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 1:26–31
January 29, 2023
Last week’s reading ended with Paul saying that he did not preach the gospel with the wisdom of human eloquence “so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning”. (1 Co 1:17) By human eloquence he meant the techniques of classical rhetoric that were considered the marks of education, breeding and intelligence. He thought that these bells and whistles might distract from the meaning. We see that today with preachers who are better versed in marketing conventions than scripture. Paul sees that the cross destroys all pretense and continues with:
The message of the cross is foolishness
to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved
it is the power of God
(1 Co 1:18)
For since in the wisdom of God
the world did not come to know God through wisdom,
it was the will of God
through the foolishness of the proclamation
to save those who have faith
(1 Co 1:21)
And immediately before today’s selection he writes.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
(1 Co 1:25)
No theologian would create our theology of the cross. Jesus executed in the most humiliating manner. The Corinthians, both those born Jew or Greek, to their everlasting credit have accepted this as doctrine. Now they must accept the social consequences of it. Paul’s strategy is very shrewd.
Consider your own calling, brothers.
Not many of you were wise by human standards,
not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth
(1 Co 1:26)
Paul reminds them that the Church is not an affinity group. We do not decide to join but are called by God. He elects us, we do not choose him. Most groups would seek out the learned, well connected, and well born. Paul begins by saying that there are few of them in the Corinthian church. Note however that there are some. He will face the consequences of disparity of wealth when he discusses behavior at Mass (1 Cor 11:17-34). We know that Erastus (Rom, 16:23) was the city treasurer and Crispus (1 Cor 1:14 and Acts 18:8) was a synagogue official. Paul’s journeys alone should continually remind us that the Church was worldwide, muti-cultural, and diverse from the very beginning. Paul is aware not only that most of his listeners are not well off but there will be both class-tension and envy. He will also address many times that the poor may seek to imitate the rich. Paul wants that Christians imitate only Jesus and replace what they once thought strong with what they once called weak.
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise,
and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,
and God chose the lowly and despised of the world,
those who count for nothing,
to reduce to nothing those who are something,
(1 Co 1:27–28)
As in most societies, the rich often blame the poor for their condition or at least find their own customs and beliefs to be “normal” and everything else inferior. Paul’s gospel is that a God who is crucified and made among the most despised of the world does not share its view of who and what are truly important. Once more, this message is both for the rich and the poor. No one is to find their ideal in worldly wisdom.
So that no human being might boast (kauchaomai) before God.
(1 Co 1:29)
The word that is translated a boast can also mean “take pride”. The wisdom and power that we are told to desire and if attained to take pride in are reduced to nothing compared with the wisdom of Jesus.
It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus,
who became for us wisdom from God,
as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption
(1 Co 1:30)
Wisdom is one of the key concepts of the Old Testament. We do not have to review this in great detail here. Let us just note that it was important and living: Two quotes from Sirach will suffice.
All wisdom comes from the LORD
and with him it remains forever
Before all ages, in the beginning, he created me,
and through all ages I shall not cease to be
The contemporary understanding saw Wisdom as a being created before the world and instrumental in forming it. No one would have seen Wisdom as equal to the one true God. But the incarnation is so deep a reality that no human language can truly describe it. Therefore, anything said about Jesus will strain language and thought. The best we can say is that when Jesus became human, he acted as divine wisdom, The effects of which are righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
Righteousness is Dikaiosunē. It is being right with God. Wisdom is shown by knowing that we are made righteous not by obeying the law but through Jesus.
Sanctification is being made holy, Hagiasmos. It is both a process—we must always strive to become holier, more like Jesus. But it is also a destination. Our aim in life is to be holy. This is true the wisdom that is Jesus Christ.
Redemption is Apolutrōsis. A redeemer was someone who bought back someone. It could be buying a slave’s freedom or ransoming a relation from kidnappers. This is accomplished through the blood of Jesus, wisdom made flesh.
Wisdom and its benefits are given as a gift by God, cannot be manufactured or earned by us and are not based on class or wealth.
So that, as it is written, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”
(1 Co 1:31)
This reflects the prophet Jerimiah.
Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
nor the strong man glory in his strength,
nor the rich man glory in his riches;
But rather, let him who glories, glory in this,
that in his prudence he knows me,
We should take pride only in the name of Jesus and being who and where he wants us to be.
Paul’s words have everlasting value because he is addressing an eternal problem. We have divisions because we want them. Diversity is wonderful and Paul’s image of the church as the Body of Christ is a plea for diversity. But his diversity assumes that we are listening to the call of Jesus and seeking to find our, literally, “God-given place” in his church and world. This will not be where our society will tell us we should be.
Matthew is the Gospel for the weeks we are reading. 1st Corinthians is a good match for it. Both are concerned about not only how a church is run but also why we care so much about it. Paul will tell us that we can boast in Jesus and Matthew will remind us that it is a blessing.