God works despite you, not because of you – Saturday, 21st week in ordinary time – 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31
It was clear that there were some in the Corinthian community that formed cliques and alliances. These alliances were built on common thought patterns in favour of persons or ideologies. There were some who peddled the idea that the Christian message was a ‘form of wisdom’ comparable to some popular Greek philosophy or that Christian leaders were wisdom teachers themselves. Paul would have none of that in the Corinthian community nor would he entertain those who would have liked to see the Gospel repackaged to match the expectations of people. The message was clear, we preach Christ crucified even if it may sound unwise, foolish or even blasphemous. (Summary of verses 1-25)
To further this argument that the preaching of ‘Christ crucified’ was all that was needed to further the Gospel and not some eloquent wisdom, Paul asks the Corinthians to consider their own calling. When God called them (as he calls us) he did not choose them for their learning or the degrees they may have acquired. The Corinthian Christians were not called because they belonged to a social class (noble birth) or because of their circles of influence ( powerful) but they were ‘chosen by god’; period! They have not been chosen because they are so great, but because God is so great.
Their calling flew in the face of human logic. Candidates are selected based on human standards; on circles of influence or intelligence or association to powerful lobbies. God’s candidates could only be classified as ‘foolish choices’, ‘weak’ and ‘despised’. Yet it will be the foolish, the weak and the despised that will shame the wise, shame the strong, shame the powerful.
St Paul reiterates not once but thrice (verses 27 and 28) that it is ‘God who chooses’ and God does not make mistakes though the world may perceive it to be so. God does not do things without a reason. God chose not to glorify the creature but so that the creator may be glorified. The human laurels that the Corinthians may win are not theirs to keep but theirs to hold on to in God’s name for to God be the glory. Paul is clear, our human merits can never be our boast because our very choice for the job was a laughing matter for the world; yet we prevailed, not because of who we are but because of who God is.
Paul takes away the boast of every Corinthian and by extension, that of every Christian. If we have achieved what we have, it is because God chose us to shine a light on his glory. He is the source of our life in Christ Jesus. The very Lord, who becomes for us the ‘wisdom of God’, our ‘righteousness’, our ‘sanctification’ and our ‘redemption’.
It would be erroneous to conclude that Paul idealizes simple mindedness or is against the intellectual mind. Paul opposes a proud man’s misplaced confidence in his own rational thinking and powers. He is not condemning human wisdom nor is he scorning the powers of reason to discern the truth. To him, the pretensions of the Corinthians to snobbishly follow great teachers as though they alone have fathomed all the mysteries appear foolish when compared with that wisdom manifested in God’s love of men.
In a nutshell, God works despite you, not because of you. Who you are and what you bring to the table doesn’t really help God out! So says Paul, let us consider our calling; ponder it, give thought to it, reflect on who we are in the larger plan of God.