8th Sunday of Ordinary Time
March 2, 2014
1 Cor 4: 1-5
Wartburg Home, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
“Servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4: 1).
St. Paul has been speaking of the factions in the Church at Corinth, groups that claimed to follow Peter, Apollos, Paul himself, or simply Jesus (cf. ch. 3). He isn’t pleased by such divisions, of course, and pleads for unity based on the truth of the Gospel and not on any particular personality.
In today’s passage, he urges the Church to look at the apostles not for their particular qualities but for their God-given roles: “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
Paul is speaking of himself and his collaborators, and of other apostles whom some would see as his rivals for influence in the Church. No, no, no! he exclaims. We’re all Christ’s servants. We all have the mission of preserving and handing on the mysteries.
There would seem to be some parallels with the Church in our time. Besides our terrible fracturing into denominations—some of which manage to get along with each other fairly well, some not at all well—we have our Catholic factionalism. Instead of bickering over loyalty to Peter, Paul, or Apollos, we may witness squabbles over loyalty to Francis, Benedict, John XXIII, Pius X, or even Pius V.
Paul, however, reminds us that we are all servants of Christ, and serving Christ is the 1st responsibility of any apostle, of any Church leader. Conservative or liberal, reader of one NCR or the other NCR—or any other sort of Catholic, lay, religious, cleric—needs to be focused on Christ, on the Gospel. Those who hold leadership positions are “stewards of the mysteries of God.” The mysteries are God’s, not the steward’s! The steward must safeguard the mysteries and, as Jesus says in one of his parables, “distribute the allowance of food at the proper time” to the members of the household (Luke 12:42).
What are these “mysteries”? That word comes up more frequently in our liturgy now, with the revised translation, than it used to. The word may refer to the liturgy itself or to the sacraments more generally. Or it may refer to God’s entire plan to salvation for us, which he effects thru Christ, thru the Church, thru the sacraments, thru the Word. Of all that, Paul, Peter, Apollos—and the apostles’ successors—are stewards.
How we discern and live God’s plan for our salvation is part of “the mysteries.” Religious life is one way of responding to God. Such a response identifies us as “servants of Christ,” women and men who belong totally to Christ.
In the post-Vatican II overhaul of religious life—which was supposed to be a renewal thru a return to the Gospel and the founding charism of any given institute—we often found communities turning into imitators of the Corinthian Church, i.e., broken into factions over rules, leadership styles, forms of ministry, habits, living arrangements, etc. Perhaps your own institutes had some of these experiences, which would not tempt you to look back fondly at “the good old days.” I suspect that some of this dynamic is also at play in the current relationship between the LCWR and the Vatican, altho there may more serious dynamics at play in that relationship, as well; St. Paul warns the Galatians, “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let him be anathema!” (1:8). All of that post-conciliar upheaval didn’t do religious life—or the Church—much good. We might have benefited from keeping our focus on Christ.
|Bishops leaving St. Peter's after a session of Vatican II (Wikipedia Commons)|
Thus Paul speaks to us today, too. He challenges us to remember who we really are: “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” Our loyalty isn’t to any particular habit, rule, custom, ministry, etc., but to the Lord Jesus. If you aren’t “stewards of the mysteries” in a sacramental sense, you certainly “stewards of the mysteries” in an evangelical sense. You, too, are charged to be faithful to the Gospel, to preserve the Gospel, to hand on the Gospel, and to do so in accordance with the Dominican charism, or the Franciscan charism or the Alphonsian charism. That is the trust that you have received, and, Paul says, “It is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (4:2).
Paul goes on to speak about judgment. Plenty of people in the communities that Paul founded or passed thru passed judgment on him and his co-workers, about the details of his preaching or its style or, probably, his personality. He relies not on human judgment but on the Lord’s judgment, and he urges the Corinthians to do likewise: “do not make any judgment before the appointed time” (4:5), i.e., before the 2d Coming and the Lord’s complete revelation of his divine plan and of our participation in it. That’s evidently good advice for us too, who are so ready to form judgments about the motives of Sr. So-and-So and how she practices the rule or how she prays or whom she associates with, etc. We’d do better to pray that Sr. So-and-So, in all her doings and all her words, show herself a servant of Christ and be a good steward in sharing the mysteries of God—and praying that we be such ourselves.