The Church in Corinth is very dear to Paul. After he founded the Church in Corinth, he is now in Ephesus. Corinth is a port city like San Diego and so it has its own share of wealth and there are all kinds of people. The diversity of people in the city of Corinth becomes a challenge for the Church in Corinth. The Church has to learn how to live with this diversity. But not much progress is being made; things seem to be degenerating and the news gets to Paul in Ephesus that the Church is now divided based on allegiance to Paul, to Apollos or to Cephas. Paul’s response to the Corinthians shows that he is quite upset with the Christians in Corinth. He must be wondering, “How did we get here?” He then writes to them taking them back to their foundation. “Has Christ been parceled out? Was it Paul that was crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The Gospel of Salvation is not a matter of political parties within the Church, it is about our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our salvation.
But what caused the divisions in the Church in Corinth? It is certainly not far from selfishness, the desire to dominate others and impose a particular way of thinking on them. Jealousy must have also played a crucial role in the crisis. When jealousy hits good people, it does not only spoil the goodness in them but they also lose the attractiveness of the gospel. This division that stems from jealousy and selfishness, which threatens the Church was there even before the Church in Corinth. At the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus, the disciples of John the Baptist were jealous of those who began to follow Jesus. Some of the Apostles of Jesus became indignant of James and John (sons of Zebedee) in their effort to obtain first places in the kingdom.
What about us? Have we outgrown what Paul is preaching against? With the different Christian denominations springing up every passing hour, antagonizing one another, can we say we are one in Christ? Let us not even talk about different Christian denominations. Focusing on the Catholic Church, do we not sometimes have different prayer groups antagonizing one another and struggling for superiority? For some, members of the Legion of Mary are holier, while others think that members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal are the sole custodians of the Holy Spirit. The one that makes me laugh, is when I find some Catholics argue about whether our Lady of Fatima is superior to Our Lady of Guadalupe or not, or whether our Lady of Lourdes is superior to Our Lady of La Salette or not. Such arguments make me wonder whether these people realize that they are talking about the same Blessed Virgin Mary.
It is quite disheartening to see a parish bitterly divided over issues like what color to paint the Church, whether to hold hands or not while praying the Lord’s Prayer, which position to place a new statue or picture and which devotion is better. How did we get here? Sometimes, we unknowingly make a god out of the liturgy, forgetting that the liturgy itself like ourselves is at the service of God. One would have expected Paul to have used the opportunity of the Corinthian crisis to win followers to himself, but he did not do that. He knew the Corinthians were missing the point. Paul did not want them to line up behind human leaders; he changed the debate, and pointed to Christ.
Stepping outside the Church, we still see people missing the point. It is no longer enough to be a Padres fan, you also need to hate the Dodgers. It is not enough to be an Arsenal fan, you must prove it by hating Chelsea or Barcelona. Did I hear you say you are a Democrat? Ok, that means you hate the Republicans. Wait a minute, you can’t be a true Republican if hatred for Democrats is not oozing out of you. But how did we get here? It has become so difficult to see any American these days, all you see are Republicans or Democrats. But how did we get here? The light Isaiah prophesied about has found fulfilment in Jesus Christ as we see in the Gospel. Jesus has handed the light over to us to share with the world. But we can only do that effectively if we are united. It is okay to ask questions and to disagree but we must not forget our main goal. Our denominational affiliations must not supersede our common identity in Jesus Christ. In the face of disagreement, we must not forget that we are still brothers and sisters. The more the world continues to over emphasis our racial differences, the more we must correct the world that there is only one race that matters, and that is the human race. Let us build strength from our diversity. As the saying often attributed to St. Augustine goes, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” When the wise man points at the star for the foolish man to see, the foolish man focuses instead on the wise man’s finger. May the Holy Spirit open our eyes to see beyond our differences so as to enjoy the beauty in our diversity, until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.