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 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.