Homily for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reflecting on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 2:1-5
Dearly Beloved, we gather here once again at the feet of the Lord. We continue our reflection on the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. Last week, we looked at how Paul contrasted the wisdom of God to human wisdom. At the core of God’s wisdom is the cross, an image despicable to many cultures. He concluded that if anyone wants to boast, he should do so in the Lord. We will continue to look at each verse at a time.
Verse 1. When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.
Why is Paul speaking this way? He speaks as if he had options. Could he have spoken to them in a sophisticated language? The answer is Yes. We can pause for a while to look a little bit at his background.
Paul is one person who wrote almost half of the New Testament. No one can disprove the unique knowledge, experience and exposure of the one behind these writings, not just about writing, but the style and the depth of his theology, that which has contributed to the foundation of Christian principles and morality today.
There is no doubt that the cultural and educational background of St. Paul had a tremendous influence upon his remarkable life, and theological reasoning we see in his writings. He was born in Tarsus, a seaport city on the Mediterranean coast that had one of the best universities. Paul's early life in his hometown of Tarsus exposed him to Hellenistic Judaism. Paul became exposed to different cultures and teachings, as well as, Orthodox Pharisaic Judaism which allowed him to learn "Classic Greek," Greek philosophy, Koine Greek and other disciplines. By his family being wealthy tent makers and Roman citizens, he was no doubt exposed to ranking Roman officials. He had a dual citizenship, so to speak.
Paul was exposed to classical literature, philosophy, and ethics. If you knew the content of Stoic philosophy, you will appreciate how on a number of occasions Paul, in his letters, borrowed heavily from his knowledge of Stoic philosophy, using Stoic terms and metaphors in his writings. Paul also relied heavily upon the training he received concerning the law and the prophets, utilizing this knowledge to convince his Jewish countrymen of the unity of past OT prophecy and covenants with the fulfilling of these in Jesus Christ.
Coming back to where we departed from 2:1.
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming the mystery of God,
I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.
However, in his own words, he continued in verse 2. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. He had displayed among the Corinthians no tricks of oratory, no flights of eloquence, no pretensions of philosophy, in giving them his testimony of the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus.
With all his knowledge and influence, he was resolved not to be distracted by any personal quality but rather keep his focus on making Christ Jesus known. Dearly Beloved, St. Paul gives us the example of a true preacher of the gospel. As much as homilies should be lively and capture the attention of the congregation, it should not shift the focus of the people from the Lord to other things. The crucified Lord (His love, mercy, forgiveness, patience, joy, happiness, etc.) is and should be at the center of our proclamation and of our liturgy.
Verse 3. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,
Biblical scholars attribute so many reasons for Paul’s fear and trembling in Corinth. One such example is Acts 18:8. Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized. 9 One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.” 11 He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
There is also evidence as people were constantly criticizing him. 2cor 10:10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” 11 Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present. 12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you.
In Verse 4. And my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of Spirit and power.
Dearly beloved, Paul's preaching was a "demonstration," not a performance. Conversion and repentance came as a result of the Holy Spirit's "power," not the "wisdom" of the preacher. We should not interpret this verse as deprecating persuasion but as an instruction that conversion does not come as a result of persuasive arguments. It comes as the Holy Spirit opens blind eyes when Christians herald the gospel. The warning is against self-reliance in the preacher. “Mere human wisdom and skills may dazzle and overwhelm, and seem to be admired by an audience but it does not penetrate to those depths of the soul which are the seat of the decisions of a lifetime”.
Verse 5 … so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
For Paul, mankind's only hope for being saved is in the grace of the Father, the finished work of the Son, and the power of the Spirit. In other words, human eloquence or logic do not bring about salvation. Human as we are, at times these are the qualities we use to define a good pastor.
What Paul avoided was artificial communication that won appreciation for the speaker but distracted from the message. Rather, they warn against any method that leads people to say, 'What a marvelous preacher!' The preacher is to use all the resources available to him or her, while at the same time not making him/herself or another person the content of the preaching. There is a good preacher only when what is proclaimed is done in the power of the Holy Spirit and the hearts of people are directed towards the Trinity.