11 September 2012

But now ...

Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the Kingdom of God? ... That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
—St Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians 6:11

"But now ..." what words of comfort to us sinners. St. Paul reminds us that before we were plunged into the death of Christ by Baptism, we were defined by our sins. "That is what some of you used to be." But now, though sinners we remain and continue to sin the face of grace, we are no longer defined by them. Rather than conforming to an image of death, we have been restored to the image of Christ in which we were made.

St Paul by his "but now" urgently reminds us that we are unworthy of sinning; that is not our nature, that is not who we are. We are sons and daughters of God, washed, sanctified and justified. By Christ's death upon the cross we have been made free, free to be fully human restored, free to be in communion with God and all his creatures. We are free to be one people again, recognizing the dignity of every person, recognizing Christ in every sister and brother. That is why St Paul is so concerned with division in the Corinthian church, and why Saint James in Sunday's reading was so concerned about distinguishing between rich and poor. That was the "old man" of sin and death, cast off by Baptism.

St Paul list is the unjust to show just how bad the division can get—Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God.—Sin causes division by its very nature; St Paul emphasizes that our sins label us, separate us, "but now!" now we are united by the Holy Spirit. Now we are one in the Body of Christ. St Paul knows, as Jesus taught, a kingdom divided against itself, a kingdom of the unjust, will not stand.

This is why St Paul exhorts the Christians at Corinth to lay aside their grievances with each other if it means division. He encourages frank and honest discussion, arbitration between members of the Church, but if it comes to causing splits and fights he would rather they "put up with injustice" and "let [themselves] be cheated."

Jesus models a preventative sign against division in his calling forth of the apostles. Yes, the twelve ascend the mountain to be annointed, but immediately after Jesus goes with them to the crowd. The apostleship, and the inheritors of the apostles, the bishops, are not a sign of division, an elite, but a sign of unity that brings the whole Church together as one people of God receiving the Word of God. Like the Corinthians, we can be tempted to find division and cast blame on brother and sister. That's going back to the days of Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, barbarian and Scythian, circumcised and uncircumcised. That would be as when we turned our back on the Cross to wander in the land of unlikeness.

But now? Now we are free for Christ is all and in all. Amen.

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