Reflecting on 1 Corinthians for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 11:23-25:

What follows is the first historical witness to the institution of the Eucharist, predating the Gospel of Mark by at least five to ten years. But Paul already affirms that it is well-anchored tradition even in the details, the first of which is that it was instituted on the night on which Jesus was handed over, which should alert the Corinthians to the gravity of the occasion they are commemorating. The translation “handed over” instead of “betrayed” has the advantage of ambiguity about it, since Jesus was “handed over” not only by Judas (Mark 14:10, 42, 44) but also by the chief priests (to Pilate; Mark 15:1), and by Pilate (to crucifixion; Mark 15:15). It can also refer to God’s handing over Jesus for the salvation of the world (Rom 8:32).

Paul’s version of the words of institution are more than Mark’s and Matthew’s, which lack that is for you, and less than Luke’s (in 22:19), which has “given for you.” This cup is the new covenant in my blood echoes “This is the blood of the covenant” in Exod 24:8. The parallelism with the sacrifice’s sealing the old covenant demands taking “that is for you” as an affirmation of the sacrificial nature of this body, which brings salvation. The separate consecration of the bread and the wine signifies the separation of the blood from the body of Christ in death (though in reality the whole Christ is present under both species: bread and wine). The death of Christ is treated as a sacrifice in the Synoptics (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45) and repeatedly in St. Paul. Here, then, the body of Christ is identified with the body immolated on the cross (so likewise John 6:51).

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians for the Third Sunday of Lent

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 10:1-4:

Now let us look at each of these elements in turn. The cloud is a classic symbol in the Old Testament for the presence of God. A cloud led the people by day and concealed them at night as they made their way to the Red Sea (Exod 13:21–22; 14:19–20; Ps 105:39). The Lord came down in a cloud over Mount Sinai at the time of sealing the covenant with his people (Exod 19:16; 24:15, 18). When Moses built the tabernacle, the cloud came down and overshadowed it, and “the glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling” (Exod 40:34–35). Paul sees the cloud of the exodus as a prefigurement of the Holy Spirit, whom Christians receive when they are baptized. And as the Israelites crossed the sea to freedom, Christians have escaped the tyranny of sin and death through the waters of baptism.

The expression baptized into Moses would make no sense apart from its parallel “baptized into Christ.” Paul sees the New Testament fulfillment already present in the Old Testament type: it was only in being united to Moses that the people escaped Egypt, just as it is only in being united to Jesus that one is saved (1 Cor 12:13). As the manna was spiritual food in the sense that it was not the product of human hands but a sheer gift from heaven, so the Eucharist is spiritual food, and not only because it is a heavenly gift but also, being the body of Christ, it is the source of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:17; 12:13; 15:45). This typology has furnished the Church with a rich source for theology of the sacraments.

The spiritual drink of which the Israelites partook was the water that flowed from the rock when struck by Moses (Exod 17:1–7; Num 20:2–13). It was spiritual in the sense that it was miraculously provided by God. The fulfillment is in the Holy Spirit, as Paul makes explicit in 12:13: “We were all given to drink of one Spirit.” In this Paul reflects the same theme found in the Gospel of John: “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (4:14). “ ‘Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: “Rivers of living water will flow from within him.” ’ He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive” (7:37–39). And most graphically, when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side after his death on the cross, “blood and water flowed out” (19:34).

John’s linking of blood to water may symbolize the Eucharist along with baptism and the Holy Spirit. So it is also possible that the spiritual drink of which Paul speaks may at least hint at the eucharistic blood of Christ. As Chrysostom comments, “The same Person brought them through the sea and you through baptism; and before them set the manna, but before you his body and blood.”

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 15:1-11

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After adding his own testimony to the creedal recital, Paul is keenly aware of how his calling differed from that of the others mentioned. He had persecuted the church of God, and that should have made him unfit to be an apostle. But as the First Letter to Timothy will explain, “I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life” (1 Tim 1:16).

God often calls the most unlikely, as he has done with the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:26–31). Not only did Paul not have good works of which he might have boasted (Phil 3:4–6); he also was the worst of sinners for having persecuted Jesus in his members (1 Tim 1:15). Hence he can say it is only by the grace of God that I am what I am. And that grace has continued to work in his life. He first says in a self-effacing way, His grace to me has not been ineffective, but then in a positive way he says he has toiled harder than all of them (the other apostles and evangelists).

He is not holding himself above the others, because whatever he has been able to do has been by the grace of God [that is] with me. After this brief expansion on his own ministry, Paul returns to the point made in 15:1—the one gospel that he handed on to them and they received. The apostolic witness to the resurrection of Jesus is not divided: whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 13:1-8-13:

Often when ministering at weddings where this chapter is proclaimed, I wonder if any of the congregation, even the bride and groom, really know what they just heard. The atmosphere of the celebration is so charged with the charm of romantic, marital love that Paul’s full meaning easily gets lost. I wonder if many are not divinizing romance, as the ancient pagans did, instead of hearing God say he wants to transform it, purify it, ennoble it by incorporating it into Jesus’ own sacrificial love of the Church.

Our culture is intoxicated with recreational sex, which paradoxically deceives in its promises and leads to broken hearts and often unplanned consequences, sometimes tragic. That is certainly a far cry from what Paul is talking about. He is not even talking about the infatuation of emotional love that is often merely the invitation to a more committed relationship. If love does not go beyond emotion, it is not surprising that we hear of people leaving their spouse “because I don’t love you anymore.”

Paul is talking about agapē. That is the love of total self-gift, of which the source and paradigm is Jesus crucified for love of his bride, the Church. There is delight in that love, but it is the delight that one experiences when giving oneself away, the joy of Jesus who loved his own “to the end” (John 13:1). It is a delight experienced in the will, even when there is no emotional residue to it. To love one’s enemies, to forgive and do good to those who have hurt us, does not mean we will automatically feel a warm fuzzy in our heart for them. It does mean that with the grace of God (for agapē is God’s gift rather than our own creation) we transcend feelings and experience the peace of Jesus at the deepest level of our soul.

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 12:12-30

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In this section, it is not a matter of some kind of metaphoric “unity in diversity” that could be applied to any group. It is a matter of the kind of unity and diversity that exists in the body of Christ.

It is not a question of how the many can be one but how the One, Christ, can be many. This emerges from Paul’s shorthand at the end of this verse. After saying, As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, he could have said “so also the body of Christ,” meaning the Church. Instead, he says so also Christ, indicating that God’s plan since the resurrection of Jesus is that he be many: the whole Christ, including his members.

Here we strike a vein deeply rooted in Paul’s conversion experience, when the risen Lord asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). The unity of the Church with Jesus is so intimate that whatever Saul did to the least of Jesus’ brothers, he did to Jesus (Matt 25:40). This is indeed a mystery: as we saw in 6:12–20, Paul thinks of the union of Christians with Christ in realistic and, as it were, physical terms.

This becomes evident again here when he says that in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. In our way of thinking today, we would understand this as becoming members of a group, a collectivity like the student body of a school. But in Paul’s mind, if we become one, it is because each of us is joined sacramentally and bodily to the risen body of Christ.

This is clear from the following: (1) Paul’s realistic contrast between union with Christ and union with a prostitute in 6:12–20; (2) the parallelism of “body” here with “Spirit” at the end of the verse (13). If the Spirit is the Holy Spirit, then “body” would normally stand for the individual body of Christ, for it, not the Church, is the source of the Spirit. (3) The participation in the eucharistic body effects the unity of the Church (10:17).

That unity far transcends a tribal or ethnic or class unity. Traditional walls have collapsed as all became one, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons. Through the new experience, these groups found themselves to be brothers and sisters around the eucharistic table. The person of Jesus had now created a new and universal—catholic—community.

 

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Third Sunday of Lent

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 1:22-25

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The tendency of the Jews who opposed the ministry of Jesus and that of Paul (compare Matt 12:38–42; Luke 11:29–32), was to demand signs, miracles or spectacular deeds of power, and Greeks look for wisdom, something that will captivate but not disturb the cultured mind.

Paul here shows his grasp of the psychology of both cultures, which made him an apt instrument for reaching both, but he does so by proclaiming something that goes counter to, because it goes beyond, the natural tastes of each: Christ crucified.

Jews indeed looked for a Messiah, but the fact that Jesus died on the cross proved that he was not the glorious liberator they desired. For them, the cross was a stumbling block, an obstacle to faith.

The Greek understanding of time and history was not eschatological: it did not have a conception of a goal toward which history was moving. “Time,” Aristotle said, “is a kind of circle.” Thus a religious founder should be one who more than any other would lead one to contemplate the order and harmony of the universe and lead humanity to a more harmonious subjection to its inevitability.

This was at least the view of the Stoics, who were Paul’s contemporaries and with whom he argued in Athens (Acts 17:18). In short, such a founder should be a philosopher. A founder who stands the world’s values on its head by going to death on a cross—the fate of the criminal dregs of humanity—would indeed have no chance of winning the Greek, even less by claiming that the cross was followed by the resurrection of the body.

As for the Jewish critic, the apparent failure of one who claimed to be the Messiah was proof that he was not. That is why it takes a special grace, a divine call, to read in the cross more than stupidity and weakness.

 

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20

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As in the previous passage, Paul concludes by placing the whole issue in the context of the Trinity. Being one spirit with Christ means that the Christian shares in Christ’s own character as a temple of the Holy Spirit. The very body of each Christian then becomes a temple of the holy Spirit.

Paul does not say that the soul is the temple. Philo, an Alexandrian Jew who was a contemporary of Paul, spoke of the intelligence as being a temple, but he never applied the image to the body. But in the Christian view, it is the body itself that enjoys union with the divine persons. In relation to Christ, the believer’s body is a member (v. 15); in relation to the Holy Spirit, the body is a temple.

The emphasis is on the Holy Spirit, which makes sexual immorality a sacrilege. The Spirit is from God, but he is also truly possessed by the Christian (you have the Holy Spirit from God). Christians may not dispose of their body as something of their own. Each believer has been purchased. The whole theology of redemption is contained here.

There was an ancient practice of freeing a slave by a rite in the temple of the gods. He was declared “servant of Apollo” and thus entered the state of freedom from slavery to his human masters. Much was made of the price paid on this occasion, and the term used for slave was sōma, “body.” When we realize that the majority of the population of Corinth were slaves, and that many in the Christian community were either slaves or freed slaves, we can understand how meaningful would be the allusion to the liberating ransom of redemption by Christ (1:30; Gal 4:5; 5:1).

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17

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Paul develops the image of the Church as God’s building, but from the viewpoint of the builders, meaning the ministers, with Paul himself as the first. Speaking from his own experience, he recalls that it was according to the grace of God given to me: thus it was God’s choice, not his, that he should be a founder of churches in Gentile territory. He does not hesitate to call himself a wise master builder.

His task was to lay a foundation on which others could build. That is why Paul did not settle in one place very long. He would invest as much time as necessary to give the new community sufficient stability, appoint local leaders, and move on. This policy shows an enormous trust both in the Holy Spirit and in the fledgling leadership in whose hands he left the community.

But he warns the Corinthians against any builder who would lay a different foundation than the one Paul has already laid: Jesus Christ. This was no small matter in a place like Corinth, where every imaginable cult had its hawkers, and syncretism — the mixing of elements from various religions — was rife. Others not of apostolic origin could introduce pagan or even Jewish extraneous elements and dilute or transform the gospel into an unrecognizable counterfeit.

But even assuming that the minister builds on Paul’s foundation, the quality of his work may vary, from gold to straw. The first three elements Paul mentions are not combustible, the last three are. Paul, then, has been like the master contractor who, after laying the foundation, has let out the rest to subcontractors. If these build well, their work will stand on the day of judgment, biblically associated with fire (Dan 7:9–10; Mal 4:1–2; 2 Pet 3:7).

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 10:16-17

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The union effected by the blood and the body of Christ is a participation. This Greek term koinōnia has a richness difficult to express in a single word. The NAB, RSV, and NIV translate it as “participation.” Others translate it “sharing “(NJB, NRSV) or “communion” (JB). In documents contemporary with Paul, koinōnia is a favorite expression for the marital relationship as being the most intimate between human beings.

Depending on the structure of the Greek, it can mean union with a person, as Paul has already in this letter spoken of a koinōnia with the Son of God (1:9), or a common sharing in something, such as in the faith (Philem 6), in sufferings (Phil 3:10), or in a work of service (2 Cor 8:4). Both senses converge in the koinōnia of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13:13).

The term can also stand for the community created by the sharing. All of these senses can be seen in Paul’s use of the word here. The koinōnia of the Eucharist is (1) a common sharing or participation in the body and blood of Christ; (2) an intimate union with the person of Christ; (3) a “community” brought about by the Eucharist, as will be specified in verse 17.

Is the Eucharist a simple meal, or is it also a sacrificial meal? The separate consecration of cup and bread, one signifying the blood and the other the body, certainly points to sacrifice, since the separation of the animal’s blood from its body was essential to sacrifice. In addition, the comparison of the Eucharist with the pagan sacrifices suggests that Paul is saying, “We have our own sacrifice.”

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 3:16-23

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Not wanting to speak for the other ministers (Peter or Apollos; see 1:12) but suggesting they would probably feel the same way, Paul first addresses those who would judge him. Your judgment, he says, does not concern me in the least.

Paul is not concerned by what people think of him. If he is concerned, as he has been for more than three chapters now, about the way they are comparing ministers, it is for the sake of the unity of the community and not because he sets any value on such judgments. I do not even pass judgment on myself. Paul is using judgment in two senses here: as the judgment of his conscience and as the judgment of the relative value of himself and the other ministers. As far as conscience is concerned, he is not conscious of anything against himself.

Although his conscience is clear, he does not judge himself acquitted, since anyone may have faults that he cannot see (Ps 19:13). He leaves that judgment to the Lord. So both for himself and in comparison with others, Paul refuses to judge.

His listeners should follow his example and not pass judgment on the relative value of the ministers. The Lord will do that at the appointed time: when the Lord comes. “There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known” (Luke 12:2). Even the greatest works of ministry done without love avail nothing (1 Cor 13:1–3), but that is for the Lord to judge, when he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts.

Note that in saying then everyone will receive praise from God, Paul does not anticipate condemnation of any of these particular ministers (Peter, Apollos, or himself), only the relative degree of praise they will receive according to the value of the ministry they have performed, as in 3:10–14.

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.