Friday of Week 22 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Paul continues the theme that he and the other apostles and ministers in the community are merely human agents of God.

He asks the Corinthians to see him and his fellow workers in the church as servants and not masters or lords. They are to be seen as stewards or house managers working for a master. And they have been entrusted with communicating the “mysteries” of God.

The word “mystery” (Greek: mysterion) here does not strictly mean something that is beyond all understanding. Rather it refers to truths which we could not discover by our own human efforts but which are now being revealed, made known by God through his agents to those who believe. The term is linked to the so-called “mystery religions” of the time, where the inner workings of the religious sect were only made known to initiates.

In the Christian community there are also “mysteries” made known. They are not meant to be kept secret but it is likely that they will only be accepted and understood by those who have faith.

Paul emphasises that what is most expected of a steward is that he can be trusted, that he is reliable and conscientious. Paul also knows, however, that he has his critics among the community so he affirms that his trustworthiness cannot be measured by them. He does not even dare to evaluate his own trustworthiness, on the principle that one is very often a poor judge where oneself is concerned.

Nevertheless, in spite of the criticisms he has received, his own conscience is perfectly clear. But, that still is not enough. Only God can be his judge. And if only God can judge, a fortiori others have no right to pass final judgement on him. Jesus had something to say about that (cf. Luke 7:37).

When the Lord comes at the end, “at the appointed time”, the hidden intentions of all (Paul and his critics) will be made plain. Then, and only then, “will be the time for each one to have whatever praise he deserves, from God”.

We should remember that each one of us, too, is a steward of the “mysteries” and truths of the Gospel. Through our baptism, they have been entrusted to us and we are expected to pass them on to others.

And we must do our utmost to be faithful and reliable stewards. Even if we are carrying out our stewardship to the best of our ability, it is almost inevitable that we will run into criticism, misunderstanding and opposition. In such cases, we must do our best to be people of honesty and integrity.

Sometimes the criticisms may be valid; sometimes not. If they are valid, we should be grateful and make the necessary changes. If our consciences are clear, we should not be too concerned with what is being said about us and leave the judgement ultimately to God. On our part, we continue to carry out our stewardship to the best of our ability.

Jesus never promised praise and popularity to those who proclaim the Gospel – quite the opposite, in fact. He himself lost his life because of the hatred his work for others generated. “The servant is not above his Master.”

Paul focused on loving and serving Christ and the Gospel in spite of great opposition both from fellow-Jews and fellow-Christians. Let us try to follow in his footsteps.

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