Reading the 3rd chapter of St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians this morning, I was motivated to add to yesterday’s blog on chapter 2. I want to start with the final verses and move backwards through the chapter.
So, says Paul in verse 19, “. . . the wisdom of this world is folly in God’s sight”, and few are going to disagree with that statement in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the murders in northern Nigeria, and the continuing insanities of other conflicts and disputes around our planet. Conservatives, traditionalists, the orthodox, centrists, liberals, and radicals are all likely to agree that we are witness to countless follies in the world.
Paul then quotes scripture: “He traps the wise in their own cunning” and “The Lord knows that the arguments of the wise are futile.” So never make any human being a cause for boasting, says Paul.
And yet . . . there is wisdom in this world and in the minds of men and women, intellectual, moral, spiritual and emotional wisdom. All that we know and experience is mediated through human consciousness. Our wisdom may be folly compared with the wisdom of the divine in creation but it is still wisdom.
Paul is also wise to caution against the hubris to which we may be tempted. But even if we live in perpetual (even if frustrated hope) that our politicians and bishops and pundits will speak with wisdom and make wise decisions, nevertheless they do embody wisdom and some even resist boasting about it.
But then, at the end of verse 21 and into verse 22 Paul makes the most astonishing claim almost in contradiction of his previous thoughts.
“For everything belongs to you – Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, the world, life, and death, the present and the future, all are yours – and you belong to Christ and Christ to God.”
My timid, tepid childhood Christianity taught me to be self-denying and cautious of any such dramatic claim about myself. And yet, and surprisingly in the context of what he has said about the Corinthian Christians at the beginning of the chapter, Paul says this is true of them. Everything already belongs to them in the here and now, this present moment, the world, life and death, the future, all are yours.
These are the same people described by Paul in verse 1 as infants in Christ, not yet ready for solid food, unspiritual, living on the purely human level, because of their divided allegiances to Paul or Apollos.
I’m tempted to think of different individuals and groups in the Church as being unspiritual infants in their allegiance to moral codes and dogmas of belief which in the context of Paul’s teaching about love and Jesus’s witness to the call of God to cross all our taboos and boundaries to meet the exiled in love. I know my infantile self is tempted to judge and exile especially those who condemn my sexuality and intimate relationships. I then have to engage the adult and remind myself of my own dignity and truth, lived within the Christian community and with a maturing faith.
Paul reminds his Corinthian friends in verses 16 and 17 of a truth that is universal and outrageous.
“Surely you know that you are God’s temple, where the Spirit of God dwells.”
“. . . the temple of God is holy; and you are that temple.”
Those of you reading this, you also are God’s temple, right now, and all of us are called to live into that reality, believing it to be true.
Maybe we all need a daily dose of Desmond Tutu, who mines the Scriptures for the wisdom which so potently reinforces his own experience of God’s unconditional and transformative love.
“To be like this God, who gives up on no-one, who loves us, not because we are loveable but that we become loveable only because God loves us, God loves us with a love that will not let us go, a love that loved us before we were created, a love that loves us now, a love that will love us forever, world without end. A love that says of each single one of us: “I love you, you are precious and special to me, I love you as if you were the only human being on earth, I love you and there is nothing you can do to make me love you more because I already love you perfectly.
“How incredibly, wonderfully, it is that God says to you, to me: “There is nothing you can do to make me love you less. I take you, I take you very seriously, I take you – you – body and soul, you the visible and the invisible of you, I love you, I love you, I love you.”