Sunday Scriptures

St. Paul’s Holy Levity United the Corinthians

By Rev. Jean-Pierre Ruiz

I hope I won’t be judged irreverent by suggesting that if Saint Paul hadn’t succeeded as an apostle — which he most surely did — he might have made it as a comedian. Seriously! In the service of the Gospel that he was sent to proclaim, Paul dug deep into his rhetorical toolkit, masterfully shaping his inspired words to address the concerns and crises that all but inevitably arose in communities that were in the earliest days of their growth in Christ.

At times he chose language that was blunt and even harsh. In his correspondence with the Corinthians, he wrote, “May I not seem as one frightening you through letters. For someone will say, ‘His letters are severe and forceful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.’

Such a person must understand that what we are in word through letters when absent, that we also are in action when present” (2 Corinthians 10:9-11).

Yet in this Sunday’s second reading, Paul does his best to persuade the Corinthians by bringing a smile to their faces. First, he sets the scene: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”

Then comes the humor, a clever bit of body-part rivalry: “If a foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,’ it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,’ it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.”

With this touch of holy levity, Paul de-escalates what must have been a serious problem in the Corinthian church, the threat to their unity in Christ that came from envy and rivalry among them.

He reminds them that they need each other: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ ” As Paul explained — albeit more abstractly — a few verses earlier, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” Unity doesn’t call for uniformity!

Pope Francis has designated this Third Sunday of Ordinary Time as the Sunday of the Word of God, declaring that in a special way, this day should “be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God.”

How appropriate it is, then, for us to appreciate Paul’s inspired words and their abiding relevance for us so many centuries after he set them in writing.

The great apostle probably had no clue that his letters would be received and venerated by the Church as holy Scripture.

Yet, as the Second Vatican Council teaches authoritatively, the human authors of the Scriptures “made use of their powers and abilities, so that with God acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which God wanted.”

When we hear the reader proclaim, “The Word of the Lord” at Mass, may we respond with faith-filled conviction, “Thanks be to God.” 

Readings for Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10

1 Corinthians 12:12-30

Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Father Ruiz, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, is a professor of theology at St. John’s University, Jamaica.