By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from 1 Corinthians 4:1-7
1 Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they should be found trustworthy. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.
6 I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, “Nothing beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?
To refrain from both judging and boasting is extremely difficult and perhaps more complicated than we might anticipate. For example, many of us use social media, platforms specifically designed to manipulate users into making petty judgments and boasts. But those of us who have sworn off social media may be indulging in a little feeling of superiority, engaging in petty judgments and boasts of our own. There is no clearly virtuous or vicious side in this one example, and so we should be clear about our motivations. This may necessitate some prayerful and dispassionate self-examination.
This is only a part of what St. Paul is telling us, however. We should be honest about our motivations and judge our own actions so as to be trustworthy, for it is required for the stewards of God’s mysteries to have trust in the community. Yet St. Paul also writes that only God can bring to light all the purposes of the heart. In other words: soul-searching is necessary in order to be a trustworthy steward of God’s mysteries, but then that’s it. St. Paul never becomes obsessed with perfect self-understanding. He never succumbs to the desire to endlessly mine every little aspect of himself before being able to act. My goodness, if he’d done that, he’d never have been able to carry out the ministry to which God had called him. It’s doubtful whether he’d even have time to write one letter to the people of Corinth, let alone two.
All of us are called to walk this fine line with St. Paul. We are to know our motivations in order to be trustworthy missionaries of the gospel, but we stop short of developing an addiction to self-examination. There are things that only God can uncover, and at some point, we’ll need to pull ourselves off the proverbial therapist’s couch and get on out there and do our best for God.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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