After his initial greeting, Paul addresses the problem of unity among the Corinthians, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you are united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” (1 Corinthians 1:10) As the authors of the scripture commentaries in the Lector Workbook write, “Paul was calling people to a common fellowship in Christ, that Christ should be at the heart of their faith, agree in what they say and be one mind and heart. Instead, they bicker with one another over whom they follow, developing a kind of superiority over others, living in incestuous unions, practicing idol worship or pagan temple sacrifice. All of this became reflected in the liturgy in terms of who gives and who withholds goods from the common purpose.
There were plenty of points of disagreement among the early followers of Christ in each of the small faith communities. Some people misguidedly placed their faith in Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas rather than placing their faith and allegiance in Christ. Paul tries to convey that Christ is not divided, but is the visible embodiment of unity as well as its only source. Paul’s mission is to preach Christ crucified for them, who came to save them, and in turn how they are to reach out to one another. The Good News does not rest in a select few, but resides within the collective whole, as the whole discerns how Christ is in their midst.
The early church struggled with understanding the challenging message of the Gospel relying on Paul and the presbyters to seek unity, not necessarily uniformity. To understand the nature of Jesus’ mission as one who came to set all people free, provide forgiveness of sin for all, not just a few, to share their treasure especially among the poor. It was not a question of who was better than another, but to see each other as Christ saw them. We still live in a world that is divided, factionalized, sometimes too much at odds with each other, rather than inhabiting a world where the common good prevails for all humanity, to serve our brothers and sisters as Christ serves us. Something to ponder, a challenging message – Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.