Sunday 5 February 2012
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Epiphany 5B (RCL)
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
We moderns often think that Paul sounds whiny when he goes on about making the Gospel free of charge and not taking advantage of his rights in the Gospel. It sounds as if he is complaining that he isn’t getting paid for this work. Clergy all over the world sympathize. In fact, however, he is boasting (despite his protest to the contrary). His opponents, the “superapostles” he calls them, claim that Paul must be weak if he doesn’t charge for the Gospel. We’ve seen the same dynamic in our day. The people who preach the prosperity Gospel dress in flashy clothes, drive nice cars, live in nice houses, to prove that the gospel they preach “works.” Think Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers. Paul, they say, must not have the right mojo, since he drives around in an old beater.
Paul points out the the Corinthians that the Gospel he preaches is “Christ crucified.” If he charged for the Gospel, then the Corinthians would be in his debt (and he in theirs). The usual relationship would be patron/client. The “superapostles” would see themselves as patrons with their adherents as clients. Paul refuses that relationship (I am glad I baptized none of you, he says earlier in the letter). Instead, in order to “profit” Jews, or those not under the law, or those under the law, Paul has become one of them. The word “gain” or “win” is ambiguous. It can either mean to be a gain to them, or to gain by them. The language is commercial language. Paul has become a “stakeholder” in the Gospel (not as the NRSV translates share in its blessings). Paul is setting up a mutual fund here — one profits when all profits.
So, who do we need to become in order to “profit” them? This is going to be hard work — not us dispensing blessings from our store, but working to benefit all. How do we enter conversation with our African brothers and sisters in a way that benefits both of us?
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus comes home from his first miracle, a display of power and authority at the synagogue. He “raises” Peter’s mother-in-law, who then waits on the group. She functions as deacon, ministers to them in the same way the angels ministered to Jesus in the wilderness. And then, after Jesus has healed all comers, he moves on. Do we have here a description of the relationship between the early household churches and the wandering prophets. The prophets come in, accept a meal, heal the sick in the household and the town, and then move on. How do we minister to those prophets? And who are they?
Paul’s willingness to live in the skin of the other, to become them, in order to benefit them, and Jesus’ readiness to move on to the next town (and Peter’s mother-in-law’s willingness to minister to the prophet) all seem uncomfortable to us, in our church buildings, with our budgets. How can we be ready to see where God wants us? How do we go out and meet people where they are, instead of waiting for them to come to us?