1 Corinthians 4: 6b-15
Luke 6: 1-5
In England the town crier publicly announced information from the monarch. Sometimes the news was not good, like; taxes will be raised starting next month. People became irate and vented their anger on the crier. The monarch had to protect his messenger and so established a law that harming the town crier was analogous to committing treason. Today, we say, "Don’t shoot the messenger!"
The people of Corinth weren’t actually shooting the messengers; the Corinthians were heartlessly judging them. Some thought Apollos was the best teacher and leader. Others believed the best messenger was Paul. The members of each group in the church at Corinth were sure that they were very good Christians, had the best leader and were unquestionably better than the people in the other group.
Paul intervenes, not for the sake of one group or another, but for the sake of the whole Christian community in Corinth. He tells them that if they are to grow as a Christian community, they will have to learn to humble themselves. Their present behavior was arrogant. In trying to compare one group against another, a spiritual "one-upmanship," they were in fact headed to a spiritual death rather than the joy and life that Jesus promised his followers. Paul instructs them, like a parent warning a child about dangerous behavior, that they should place their attention on the message (God’s word) and not on the messenger. If we humble ourselves and keep our eyes on the Word, we will experience a greater unity and a life rich in joy.
We all need to be on guard against religious arrogance, thinking ourselves spiritually better, smarter or stronger than others. We can become puffed up with ourselves, like the Pharisees in the Gospel passage. We are a church of flawed people, all of us, even church leaders and pastors. Paul would remind us today to keep our eye on the message (Jesus Christ) and not on the messenger. We belong to the Church not because of a popular pastor or famous preacher or celebrated religious educator, but because Jesus Christ himself has loved and called us into God’s Kingdom to serve one another.
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is Provincial Superior of Holy Cross Province and resides in Chicago.