By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Epistle
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Is Christ Divided?

Isaiah 9:1-4 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17-18 Matthew 4:12-23

Archeologists working in Corinth have uncovered ancient religious objects bearing these inscriptions: "I belong to Aphrodite" and "I belong to Demeter." The making of such confessional slogans and inscriptions was one of the ways people expressed their faith, devotion and loyalty to one of the many gods or goddesses of the ancient Greek mystery religions that were practised in Corinth before Christianity came. It appears that when these same people became Christians they tried to express their new Christian faith in the same old way. But this time, instead of proclaiming their loyalties to the one Lord in whom all Christians believe, they erroneously directed them to the different ministers who were instrumental in founding and establishing their Christian communities. That is how they ended up with the divergent Christian confessions and claims that we find in today's 2nd reading: "I belong to Paul," "I belong to Apollos," "I belong to Cephas," "I belong to Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:12).

First we see that by identifying and defining themselves primarily in relation to Paul, Apollos and Cephas (Peter), the Corinthians have raised these notable missionaries who brought them the Christian faith to the same status as Christ whom they preached. These slogans, no doubt coming from a sincere desire to express their faith convictions, nevertheless became a source of rivalry and conflict among them, a source of division (schism in Greek) and heresy. The Corinthians forgot the words of Paul: “For we do not preach ourselves; we preach Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

This story of how the one Christian church of Corinth ended up in fragmentation and polarization can tell us a lot about how the one universal church founded by Jesus Christ came to become the thousands and thousands of different confessions we have today, with some working at cross purposes to others. As in Corinth much of the division among Christians stems from groups of Christians idolizing their favourite leaders and putting them in the place of Christ. Of course it is inevitable that certain Christians would feel more at home with the dogmatic security of the keys of Peter (Matt 16:10-19), others with the charismatic liturgy of Paul (1 Corinthians 14:18), and still others with the pedagogical eloquence and learning of Apollos (Acts 18:24). Unity is not uniformity. This legitimate expression of diversity, however, should never lead to division (schism) because, as Paul reminds us, what unites us as Christians far outweighs whatever it is that divides us (1 Corinthians 1:13): "Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

If only all Christian ministers and leaders had the spirituality and humility of Paul to direct their members to give their unquestioning allegiance to Christ rather than to themselves! The unity of all Christians in Christ would be more of a reality than the fleeting dream it seems to be today.

Did you notice that among the "followings" criticized by Paul in Corinth was one that had the slogan, "I belong to Christ?" Now why would anyone criticize such a slogan? After all, the members of this confession are right and all others are wrong. Yes and no. One may have the right words and slogans and yet carry on with the same wrong attitudes of divisiveness and exclusiveness that is characteristic of less enlightened groups. This was apparently the case in Corinth. To heal the wounds of the divided body of Christ, right words and slogans are certainly necessary but they are by no means sufficient. Over and above the right statements of faith, we need the right attitudes which spring from a recognition that we all belong to Christ.

What an appropriate reading for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18-25! This week was purposely chosen as Christian Unity Week because it brings together the feast of St Peter’s Chair in Rome (January 18) and that of the Conversion of St Paul (January 25). As we celebrate these two pillars of the one catholic and apostolic church of Christ let us resolve, as individuals and as a community, to work to heal the wounds of division among Christians, for a house divided against itself cannot stand.

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