6 Epiphany, Year A: Deed and Disposition

SUNDAY’S READINGS | February 12, 2023

Deut. 30:15-20 or Sir. 15:15-20
Ps. 119:1-8
1 Cor. 3:1-9
Matt. 5:21-37

St. Paul’s opening salutation to the Church in Corinth is both sincere and provocative. He is genuinely grateful for the gifts of the Spirit they have received and, for that very reason, troubled by evidence those gifts have been abused.

He says, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:4-9).

Though richly blessed, the Corinthians must be strengthened to the end, remaining blameless unto the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, preserving the fellowship of his Son. In other words, spiritual gifts do not themselves guarantee a healthy Christian community. Paul begins his criticism: “For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human?” (1 Cor. 3:3-4).

He then reminds them that every servant of God is assigned by the Lord and directs the community toward God, that is, unity in Christ, rather than quarreling. “What then is Apollo? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor. 3:5-6). St. Paul is profoundly concerned that the community has fractured because of a specific action and its accompanying disposition. There is outward quarreling and inner jealousy. Indeed, a Christian community may, in this way, violate its vocation as “God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9).

A similar concern about action and inner motive occurs in a discourse of Jesus. “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to the judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the gehenna/hell of fire” (Matt. 5:21-22).

Murder destroys a human relationship, but so do insults and offensive speech, and the nursing of rage. Adultery is a sin, but it would never occur if not preceded by sustained attention, that is, “a view to desire her” (Matt. 5:28; my literal trans.). The words about an eye or hand that scandalize the body underscore the need to subject the ecclesial body to discipline in order to preserve the common good. The teaching on divorce is concerned with subsequent harm to the man or woman.

In sum, Jesus is promoting a community in which there is an equal concern for maintaining right actions and good intentions that promote the common good. To that end, Jesus wants his disciples to restore any breach in fellowship. “[B]e reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:24).

Deeds matter, and so do inner dispositions. Be careful until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Seek peace and pursue it.

Look It Up: The Collect for Purity

Think About It: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts.


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