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.