Do We Really Want to Be Like "Them"?
Lessons from cycle II of the feria, according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite:
I Corinthians 1: 26-31.
Psalm 33: 12-13, 18-21.
Matthew 25: 14-30.
The Twenty-First Saturday of Ordinary Time.
A Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday.
Return to ByzantineCatholicPriest.com.
3:13 PM 8/30/2014 — Just a very brief meditation for today.
On those occasions I've been with you for Holy Mass this week we had looked mostly at the Apostolic lessons from St. Paul, taken from his letter to the Great Church at Corinth which he had established; and, one of the underlying themes to which he returns again and again, both here and in his previous correspondence to the Thessalonians—which he wrote while he was in Corinth—is how everything we do that is good is actually done by Christ working through us. Today's lesson is, perhaps, the most direct statement of this truth: “If anyone boasts, let him make his boast in the Lord” (I Cor. 1: 31). He's actually quoting there from Jeremiah 9: 23.
He has good reason to hammer away at this point because of his experiences in Corinth, upon which we reflected when we were last together. I have no way of knowing what Father Paul preaches to you when he has the Mass; but, in the lessons the last few days prior to today's, the Apostle had been talking about the paradox of the Cross. Yesterday he drew a rather insightful comparison between what he called “the wisdom of this world” (v. 20) and the simplicity of the Christian's faith in the Cross. Keep in mind what we had observed about the city of Corinth when St. Paul arrives there: it's the largest commercial center in the world, and everybody from all over the world is there; its intellectual life, such as it was, was centered on the emerging musings of the Greek philosophers. Paul, remember, had failed to convert the Greek philosophers during his stay in Athens prior to arriving in Corinth; so, perhaps here he finds an opportunity to twist the knife a little with the devotees of Socrates.
As we observed at the beginning of the week, Paul's converts in Corinth came from every walk of life, but most of them from the lower classes; they wouldn't have been welcomed at the cocktail parties of the intellectual elite debating Xenophon and Plato over their cucumber sandwiches; nor would they want to be, as Paul reminds them to simply open their eyes and see how unhappy and unfulfilled all these “beautiful people” are. In yesterday's lesson, he asks them, “What has become of the wise men, the scribes, the philosophers of this age we live in? Must we not say that God has turned our worldly wisdom to folly?” (v. 20 Knox).
Now, understand that when we set out to decipher—and that's the right word—what Paul is saying in these letters, we're taking a gamble. Paul would visit these places, establish the Church there, then move on; and, as he was traveling along to the next mission, he would stop at various places and check his messages, kind of like how people would sometimes stop at an Internet cafe to check their e-mail in the days before smart phones;—if anyone remembers what an Internet cafe is—and, if he got a message that there was some problem back in one of these places that needed correction, he would fire back a letter to that effect. The problem for us is that we only have one side of the correspondence; the Apostle is answering questions and handing down decisions, but we can only surmise from his words what question was asked or what dispute needed to be decided.
My guess is—and it would only be a guess—that some of his converts in Corinth were suffering from an inferiority complex, kind of like what we go through when we watch too many episodes of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Perhaps some of the Corinthian Christians thought they could “mainstream” themselves by going to those cocktail parties and arguing Christianity as a competing philosophy. Kind of like what happens when Church leaders in our own day try to make themselves relevant by speaking out on all sorts of secular matters, like immigration reform or race relations or anything that happens to be in the news at the moment, in an attempt to prove to the editors of some news organization that the Catholic Church is relevant, too. Paul tried it himself when he was in Athens, when he attempted to preach in the Temple of the Unknown God (cf. Acts 16: 16—18: 1), and it didn't work; they laughed him out of town. And he doesn't want to see the Corinthians make the same mistake, so he reminds them where they come from, to actually relish the fact that they come from the wrong side of town, to realize that the truth they posses does not come from themselves but from Christ:
Consider, brethren, the circumstances of your own calling; not many of you are wise, in the world’s fashion, not many powerful, not many well born. No, God has chosen what the world holds foolish, so as to abash the wise, God has chosen what the world holds weak, so as to abash the strong (1: 26-27 Knox).
In other words: You don't want to be like them. What makes you “wise”—if that's the word you want to use—is Christ; which leads up to his punchline: “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord” (v. 31 NAB).
Beatus populus quem elegit Dominus in hereditatem sibi. That's the refrain from today's Responsorial Psalm: “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own” (Psalm 33: 12 NAB).* Let the beautiful people—the relevant people—have their life; what we have is much better.
* This is the Latin as found in the current edition of the Roman Missal. The Vulgate gives this rendering: Beata gens cujus est Dominus Deus ejus; populus quem elegit in hæreditatem sibi, which Msgr. Knox translates thus: “Blessed the nation that calls the Lord its own God, the people he has chosen out to be his!” Thus, the rendering of the Vulgate, which follows the Greek, contains the notion that, not only has God chosen His people, but His people have also chosen Him, an element missing from the passage in the New American Bible.