Tag Archives: Corinth

Is Our World Sharing in the Sufferings of Christ?

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For the next two weeks at Mass we’re reading St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, a Christian community in the city of Corinth around the year 50, shortly after the time of Jesus. Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians are favorite sources of information for historians studying the early Christian church. They also offer us a way to reflect on our own church today.

In the easter season we read from the Acts of the Apostles– St. Luke’s overview of the early Christian church. Beginning with the gospel preached in Jerusalem and ending with its reception in Rome, Luke describes its growth after the resurrection of Jesus mainly through the activity of Peter and Paul.

Now, we turn in our lectionary to the church at Corinth, a early church founded by Paul. What was it like?

Drawn from the different peoples flocking to the great Mediterranean port, the community at Corinth was diverse, and a variety of preachers and teachers attracted its members, causing some division, noticeably as they came together to “break bread.” There’s some sexual immorality in this church, close to the open sea. Some were wondering about the resurrection of Jesus.

This is a church no longer mostly Jewish, though some may have missed the stability a Jewish synagogue brought, despite disagreements over Jesus. As yet there was no bishop administering this church for Paul to contact and work with. He was an apostle, a preacher to the world, speaking as a disciple of Jesus.

Clearly, this is a church  “in the works,” not complete, with glaring weaknesses, struggling to grow in faith, with plenty of loose ends, looking for answers. It’s a church experiencing great change. It’s a church suffering, not from outward persecution, but from turmoil within.

Is this a church like our own?

As he speaks to the Corinthians, Paul sees their sufferings first, which he describes as “Christ’s sufferings”. He’s experiencing that mystery himself, and in the opening chapters of the Second Letter to the Corinthians (which unfortunately are not well represented in our lectionary) Paul begins with that mystery and returns to it over and over.

Yes, there are problems to be faced, corrections must be made, restructuring must take place, but Paul keeps reminding them they are experiencing the sufferings of Christ. With Christ’s suffering, Paul writes, comes his encouragement.

The sufferings of Christ and the encouragement of Christ. Paul knew them both. Preaching in the province of Asia with some companions, “We were utterly weighed down beyond our strength, so that we despaired of life.”  But with the sufferings came an overflowing encouragement, which inevitably accompanies the sufferings of Christ. “We do not trust in ourselves but in God who raises from the dead.” ( 2 Corinthians 1, 5-11)

Can we see in Paul’s way the right way, the first way, to look at our church and our world today? We’re tempted to quickly stand in judgment, to analyze, to condemn, even to throw up our hands and lose hope in the world around us. Do we need to remember the sufferings of Christ, a mystery that falls on all, and the “encouragement” that always accompanies this mystery?

Listen to Paul speaking to the struggling Corinthians:

“Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement,”

Good letter for us to read these days.

“In your wrath, remember compassion.”

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Paul in Sin City

I usually look first at the gospel when I look over the readings for Sunday Mass, but today I’m looking at Paul’s brief introduction to his First Letter to the Corinthian, which we’ll be reading from the next few weeks at Sunday Mass.

Paul wrote a number of letters to the Corinthians, the Christian community he founded after reaching Corinth about the year 50. It was the most exasperating community Paul dealt with, but the Corinthians made him think about faith, so we can thank them for keeping Paul on his toes.

Corinth was a rich, sprawling seaport, being rebuilt as Paul arrived, a frontier city attracting ambitious people from all over the Roman world. They were people who wanted to get ahead, many of them were building large homes for themselves from the money they were making. Corinth was a city of “self-made” people; only the tough survived there. It also was a big center for prostitution and sexual commerce. Today we would call it a “sin” city.

That may be one reason why Paul wanted to establish a church there. He was chosen by God to be the apostle to the Gentiles and bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. Where could that be better done than from a seaport with connections to the whole world. He also thought that if Christianity could take root there, it could take root anywhere.

When Paul came to Corinth around the year 50 AD, he did what anybody has to do when they go to a new place– find a place to stay and get a job. He stayed in the house of Prisca and Aquila, a Jewish Christian couple who owned a small shop in Corinth. He worked as a tentmaker in their shop. As he worked he met people, and Paul spoke to them of Jesus Christ, and they believed.

Then on the Sabbath in the synagogue he made contacts too, but I think Paul probably did most of his preaching when he was working. A lot of things can happen when you are working.

To form new believers, Paul asked some of his friends with large houses to hold meetings there. A lot of things happen in homes that don’t happen in church.

Paul generally founded a church and moved on. But when he moved on, troubles often started in many of those communities, so sometimes he wrote them letters, and sometimes he had to come back himself to try to straighten things out. There were a number of grave problems in the church at Corinth. The church was split into factions, based on wealth, status and friendship. It also was confused about sexual morality.

Paul reminded the Corinthians where they came from and who they were. Not many of you were wise or well-born, he told them. God chooses the weak things. God still does.

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Fighting in Church

Today’s Office of Readings has the letter to the Corinthians by Pope St. Clement 1, written about 95 AD,  just after the last of the New Testament writings were written.

Fighting erupted among the members of the church in Corinth, once cared for by Paul the Apostle, who scolded them for the same thing. There’s slander and backbiting and complaining going on; people like to hear themselves talk, Clement remarks, quoting scripture: If you talk a lot you only hear yourself. A big talker thinks he’s always right.

The Corinthians were a scrappy bunch, it seems.

Clement tells them that their fighting makes the church look bad among their unbelieving neighbors. Who wants to belong to a community like that? Paul wrote to the Romans; I guess Clement thought he should write to the Corinthians.

Stop fighting among yourselves and do some good, the pope says. Obey your leaders, but above all, obey God. Bow down in respect before God and be silent before his holy will, as the Prophet Isaiah bowed silently  before the overwhelming presence of God in the temple.

“Our boasting and our confidence must rest on him. Let us be subject to his will. Look carefully at the whole host of his angels; they stand ready and serve his will. Scripture says: Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him, and a thousand thousand served him, and cried out: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole creation is full of his glory.”

“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts…” We say at Mass. We bow down before God; our thoughts, our judgments, our plans are nothing before God’s thoughts, judgments and plans. We know so little. Be humble before your God, Clement says, then you’ll get along with your neighbor.

Good advice for all of us.

Clement’s letter also gives the earliest testimony to the deaths of Peter and Paul at Rome.

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