3 September 2008 Memorial of St. Gregory the Great
1 Corinthians 3, 1-9 Rivalry in Corinth
The basis and authentic expression of Christian life is koinonia or community. So, Paul was very sensitive to any discord happening within a Christian community such as in Corinth. There were rival groups within the community under different leaders such as Apollos from Alexandra or Cephas or Paul or Christ (1 Cor 1, 12).
But these ‘leaders’ had to be clarified. Paul was indeed one the leaders because he founded the community there. Apollos was with Paul in Ephesus. His eloquent preaching in Corinth while Paul was absent (1 Cor 3, 6) attracted his own followers especially the sophisticates who might be offended by Paul’s blunt style. But Cephas here did not mean Peter, the disciple. The group might be Jewish-Christians who invoked Peter’s name to legitimize a more law-observing form of Christianity. Same thing with the name of “Christ” — some felt that they belonged to Christ in a ‘special’ way. They were quarreling and hostile of each other. In addition, they used ‘party-slogans’ like “I belonged to Paul” — like the present-day, “I belong to Hillary Clinton’s party”, “I am anti-GMA”, etc.
Thus, Paul articulated his objections in the readings today. He said that they cannot be mature Christians since they did not grasped what was truly authentic community. Their standards were still the standards of the world. They glorified their leaders, and thus created discord. They became divisive than unifying. Paul called them, sarkinoi (derived from Gk sarx, flesh) and sarkikoi, meaning, dominated by the flesh. They were not just human beings with flesh but their lives were still dominated by the lower side of their nature. They did not realize that though they were made of flesh, they did not have to remain that way. There were disagreements among the leaders, but instead of helping each group patch up, they aggravated the situation by glorifying their leaders.
So Paul gave a wise advice. He used the analogy of a garden: the man who planted was no greater than the man who watered the plants. Both of them could not claim that they made the plant grow. Only God made it grow. And both the one who planted and the one who watered all worked for the same master: God. Thus, the leader and their members were of equal dignity and value; no one was higher than the other. All were working in the vineyard of the Lord.
This problem still exists today. We have a tendency to be hierarchical. We put more dignity to the government and church leader than putting value to ourselves who follow them. Their rank is not a hierarchy of power, but of service.
On the contrary, leaders served the members themselves. The president’s life is determined by her constituents’ needs. The priest is not the king; but the servant. He should respond to the needs of his flock, than the flock adjusting to his moods and whims. The priesthood is no greater than married life. Without his parents, there would be no priest. We serve God according to our gifts. We earn respect, not coax it out from people invoking one’s title as parish priest, as congressman or mayor. We are all servants of the same God. Leadership is not a status, but a responsibility. And since we serve one God, then there is more reason for us to be together as a community, than foster division. I believe this is not the time to focus on what makes us different from each other. This is the time to discover the common thread that binds us all.