Love never ends, commentaries on 1 Corinthians
Year 2, Week 21, Thursday Glenroy 1976
“God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Cor 1:9
From the beginning God had intended to bring mankind to its fulness. To his people he had sworn possession of the Promised Land. He is faithful to his intentions, for his purposes share the steadiness of his eternal nature. He is essentially faithful.
As he used the politics of Egypt and the surprises of nature to bring his people to freedom through the Red Sea so, whenever he brings a person to freedom, he operates on the scale of human and cosmic history. The whole world conspires. The whole world utters God’s call.
This freedom to which we are called is nothing less than a share in the state of Christ. He was called Son of God at the moment of his baptism in Jordan. He was proclaimed Lord and Christ at the moment of his resurrection. But he is the Word from all eternity. To this same condition we too are called. Every step towards freedom, every increase in spiritual being, every growth in faith and love, every acquisition of truth, is an equivalence to Christ. We mirror each other.
Our growth is the work of God. As the Father has the initiative within the Trinity, so he has the initiative in all things. Christ seconds the Father’s will; the Father does nothing in opposition to Christ. Even so, Christ is not principally the source of our growth. It is the Father who primarily draws us to our full stature, which is no less than Christ’s, but it is God who makes us grow. We are brought, then, by the Father’s work, into the same condition as Christ – who is our leader and our Lord.
Year 2, Week 21, Friday Glenroy 1976
“Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” 1 Cor 1:22-23
Paul’s practice was to go first to the synagogue in whatever town he visited. Generally, however, his preaching met with little success because the Jews looked for signs. The marvelous crossing of the Red Sea had brought their ancestors to faith in God, so now they wanted wonderful events before they could believe in Jesus. They failed to see that the greatest event was Jesus’ own person. Paul had preached at Athens to the philosophers of the Areopagus. They listened with indulgence until he mentioned the resurrection. Then they laughed at him. They sought wisdom and eternal principles, but failed to seek the ground and base of the highest wisdom.
Paul proclaims the basis of all wonders, the source of all wisdom, namely the Christ. He announces, not an impersonal event or an abstraction, but the individual man, Jesus of Nazareth who is what all people seek in their quests. Paul announces, not a good deed nor a beautiful event, but the horror of a death transformed into glory, the greatest deed, the most breathtaking act.
We can understand Christ crucified only if we have already travelled the same road. We can accept Christ crucified only when we accept ourselves in our weakness. Christ reveals man to man, and his justification by God is a confirmation of ourselves. Those who can say yes to Paul’s preaching, find in Christ the truth that is valid for all times.
Year 2, Week 21, Saturday Glenroy 1976
Preludes to grace
“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” 1 Cor 1:26-27
Paul had success in Corinth, but mainly with the common people, the artisans, dockers and servants. These are the ones who have been given the gift of faith. Paul sees in this fact the eternal truth of the cross. Jesus was reduced below every human station, desolate in mind, weakened in body and humiliated as a criminal. Yet this very lowliness is the prelude to his becoming Lord and Christ. The Corinthians too have been called and at their baptism were acclaimed with the title of ‘sons of God’. Their ordinariness was the first step to receiving the gift of faith. Their lowliness was the occasion of being filled with the Spirit.
This principle is true of all times. The fullness of God can be attained only with simplicity of heart. If trust is placed in power or background, it is not placed in their source – the Spirit of God. Trust is placed not in what is already possessed but in what can be attained, not the lesser but the higher gift. God calls those who have simplicity of life, openness of mind and a readiness for the unknown, and grants them wisdom and power and independence, making them masters and sanctifiers of all things.
Year 2, Week 22, Monday Glenroy 1976
Paul’s weakness and fear
“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” 1 Cor 2:1-5
Paul had deep insight into the mystery of God, yet was not a gifted speaker. He did not have the turn of phrase and the logical method that delighted the Greek mind. Yet he is glad about this, for it means that his preaching is conformed to the message it conveys. Paul comes preaching only one thing: Christ, not the magnificent Christ of the public life, with his miracles and his riveting words; not the glorious Christ of the resurrection appearances, but the crucified Christ in whom there is no beauty, nothing to attract human eyes. Paul’s lack of style is comparable to Christ’s disfigured body. His inability to display logic is like Christ’s stunning silence. Paul preaches, by his life and his handicaps, nothing but a crucified Christ. His preaching is most convincing in its lack of oratory, for he depends only on the power of the Spirit.
If we can appreciate this paradox, as Paul did, then we have already experienced it; if we have felt it in our lives, then we are already citizens of heaven; if we are eternal, then we are ‘sons of God’ upon earth; if we are in time, we are called to the cross, so that the mystery of Christ might be re-enacted and fulfilled in a thousand other Christs, till the world is saved though every member.
Year 2, Week 22, Tuesday Glenroy 1976
“These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” 1 Cor 2:10-12
Paul is speaking of the cross and its wisdom.
The cross is the most puzzling and also the most characteristic action of God, the most revealing aspect of his nature. It can be understood only by those who have the spirit and the mind of God. Christians do not have the character of the world but the character of God. They are divine as God is divine and so they can understand the cross. Without that interior light, the workings of God would remain a puzzle for them
The word ‘cross’ does not refer to pain and ignominy alone. It also means the glory that is inseparable from it. It is that complex of humiliation and glorification, that risen body which still bears the imprint of the nails and the lance.
As Christians experience Christ’s glory in themselves, they also know his cross. The cross is the gift of God, and all other gifts are expressions of it. It is their Christian life and its marvel.
Year 2, Week 22, Thursday Glenroy 1976
The supremacy of love
“Whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” 1 Cor 3:22-23
All things are brought into one under God. His choice goes out to all things. He joins them to himself, harmonizes them, and unifies them in the ardour of his love. For this reason, divisions are impossible for someone who has the Spirit of God.
Christ, being filled with the Spirit performs the same action of unity. Being First-Born, he does this among humans in an altogether unique way, by the cross. Christ joins human beings to himself, they do not join him to their selves, for he is the First-Born. Christ joins them to himself and God in turn joins Christ to his self. Thus, God has the primacy of love.
And each Christian is called to do this for others. The same thirst of unity moves in their hearts as they stretch out and call all into being, seconding God’s choice, imitating Christ’s seconding. In that work of union, they find their greatest joy, for all things become one Body, one Spirit in them. The disparate can become one only if they become spiritual; the diverse things can achieve unity only if they become loving and godlike; the multiplicity of passing things achieves eternity only if they choose each other.
Here, at last, is the oneness sought by the philosophers.
Year 2, Week 22, Friday Glenroy 1976
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.” 1 Cor 4:3-5
Paul is under attack from his own people in Corinth. He has defended himself against their criticism, but in any case he does not attach importance to their opinion, for their judgment is purely human. In place of the Day of the Lord, they have invented the Day of Man. For this reason, they have no authority. Therefore, Paul tells them to wait for the coming of Christ, when they will indeed truly know and so their opinion will have authority.
Christ comes when a person is inspired. Christ is fully come when a person has become spirit. Inspiration takes us out of time to the Last Day; inspiration gives us the energy of God and of the universe, of mankind and all history. Only those who are inspired can utter true judgment. When they speak, Christ speaks. When Christ speaks, they speak, for they and Christ are one.
Their judgment does involves punishing, but the damnation is found above all silence, for silence creates confusion more than wrath. They do indeed expel the evil person, for they accept only goodness. They do not recognise those who are evil. “I do not know you”. Their condemnation consists above all in an omission of blessing. It is the darkness – an absence of light. Not to have a blessing is to have a curse.
Year 2, Week 23, Wednesday Glenroy 1976
The true centre
“I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” 1 Cor 7:29-31
Paul is aware both of the coming kingdom and of the passing nature of the present. He preaches detachment from the concerns of this life and its constant changes. It is unnecessary, he says, to live on that level.
It may be said that Paul is inhuman because he refuses to share in the joys and sorrows of mankind. Yet he is not inhuman, he is future-human. He knows in anticipation what future humans will be and need not take part in their ups and downs. Paul is not stoic. He is not refusing the turmoil of history just because it is painful. His reason is that a new history is about to occur, a new definitive history, not the eternal return of the Stoics. A new humanity is about to appear. Paul already lives in the aura and ambit of this new humanity. It has already come to birth in Paul himself, and he looks forward to its birth throughout the world.
The new humanity is the Christ, who is the Man beyond history because he touches all history; the Man now untroubled by pain because he has endured all pain; the Man above changing joys because he knows perfect joy; the Man who feels all, wants all, governs all. He is the Man who has achieved the Manhood of which we are all sorry imitations.
Paul is not tied to history, not because he despises it but because he touches all history through knowing the Lord of history. How can he find himself involved in trade or commerce when he is already the lord of the divine economy? How can he be sorry or glad at one moment or another, when he embraces every emotion? How can he be concerned about possessions since the whole world is his? Paul’s seeming indifference is not a weakness but a strength. Others may feel the turmoil of history because of their limitations. History engulfs them, but Paul embraces history because he is already the Man.
The lesson today is this: he who experiences the Man, is the Man, lives beyond the constraints experienced by human beings and draws them all into the unity of the Perfect Man.
Year 2, Week 23, Thursday Glenroy 1976
God and the gods
“Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” 1 Cor 8:5-6
In Paul’s day the forces of nature were called ‘gods’. In our own day people find meaning in other forces. These are their gods, in fact if not in name.
Christians say there is only one God from whom all things come. Greater than Baal, he produces all things. Greater than cosmic forces, he directs all things. Wiser than all the philosophers, he gives meaning to life and draws human beings to himself, for he is their meaning and their goal.
There is only one God. If there were several, humans would disintegrate, not knowing to which they should give themselves. There is only one Lord. If there were several, humans would fragment in mind and body, torn apart by divided loyalties.
The Lord Christ seconds his Father’s will. He is the model on which all is built and it is out of love for him that the Father creates a kingdom. Christ Jesus gives consistency to things since they are, in intention, his body. It is he who redeems; it is he who makes it possible to know God.
The Church, visible and invisible, is the sign of his success. Its vocation is to be as Christ, giving consistency to things, seconding the Father’s will, being models, of justice, receiving the elect, material and human, as their body, so that through them grace might come to mankind and mankind come to God.
Year 2, Week 24, Wednesday Glenroy 1976
Ending and lasting
“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. … When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” 1 Cor 13:8, 11.
Mary stood by the cross of Jesus, and witnessed the passing of a Son whom she had born and nurtured, loved and respected. Yet she knew, however obscurely, that only in this way could he achieve that fullness of glory which made him Lord and Christ and Man. Her child was becoming the Man; his flesh was becoming immortal, incorruptible, invisible.
The Spirit has inspired the Church to develop many glorious things: sacraments, hierarchy, institutions, laws. These, in their limited aspects, will be destroyed. Just as prophecies, tongues and knowledge pass away, so too will all other temporary things pass. These are good and necessary for as long as the Church is a ‘child’, but when the Church becomes a Man, these will go. When the Man comes on the clouds of heaven, and when the Man becomes fully formed in the heart of the Church, all these will go. The passing is painful. The passing is necessary.
Yet the passing can be only at God’s hour. Mary conceived only when the Spirit came. Christ was killed only when his hour had come. No one can take it upon their self to effect the passing. Only the Man can do this. Only he can put away the things of a child and destroy them. They will have served their purpose and borne their fruit.