Friday of Week 23 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-27

Paul speaks today of his calling to be an apostle of the Gospel. It is not a privileged position he boasts about because it is a commission he has received from the Lord. “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel!” It is not a task which he has taken up of his own accord in order to get some personal gain. Rather, it is a responsibility that has been given to him. It is a call to serve, not to dominate.

Is there no reward then? “It is this: in my preaching, to be able to offer the Good News [Gospel] free, and not insist on the rights which the Gospel gives me.” Paul’s reward in preaching is not material gain of any kind but the claim that he has preached to the Corinthians without charge and has not taken advantage of the rights he deserves as a missionary.

Those rights were understood to include food and drink, shelter and some monetary recompense for bringing the Gospel message. But he does not see his reward in these things and foregoes them. Earlier he had argued eloquently for the right as an apostle to be supported by the community and, even like Peter and other apostles, to have a wife accompanying him. But he has set aside all these rights and supported himself by working with his own hands (as a tent maker).

So, while on the one hand, he is not beholden to anyone, on the other, “I have made myself the slave of everyone” so as to win as many as possible over to the Gospel. Not only did Paul not use his right to material support in preaching the Gospel but he also deprived himself – curtailing his personal privileges and social and religious rights – in dealing with different kinds of people. He had only one goal in mind, bringing people to the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ and to hear the Good News.

In a famous phrase he says, “I have made myself all things to all in order to save some at any cost.” Immediately before this (but omitted in our reading) he had said, “To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.” By ‘weak’ he meant those who were religiously and morally weak. Hence, as we saw yesterday, he declined to eat meat offered to idols so as not to upset or scandalise those still immature in their Christian faith.

And his only motive for doing this is “for the sake of the Gospel”, so that by sharing it with as many people as possible, he himself might also share in its promises – the fullness of life promised by Jesus.

In the final paragraph, Paul uses images from contemporary athletics to describe his work as an apostle. The Corinthians were very familiar with the athletics in the local Isthmian games, which were held in Corinth every second year and were second only to the Olympic games.

So Paul compares himself to a runner going all out to be the winner in a race where only one can win the wreath of victory. Athletes go into strict training and make all kinds of sacrifices just to win a laurel wreath which will wither in a few days; the prize the Christian pursues lasts forever. He does not mean to imply that in the Christian race there is only one winner but that one should go all out as if that were the case. He has a definite goal – he does not beat the air aimlessly but severely disciplines himself so that his bodily self will serve the goals he wants.

It would be tragic, he says, if having been a proclaimer of the Good News, he did not live up to its requirements himself and so be disqualified at the end.

We, too, each in our own way, have been called to proclaim the Gospel through our station in life. It is an inbuilt element of our being Christian, not something that is an optional accessory. We do it both by word and action and we do it all the time wherever we are, with whomever we find ourselves to be.

We do not do it for monetary gain or for some other motive of personal profit. The only reward – and that is what makes it worthwhile – is to become more like Christ every day. There is nothing else in life that will bring greater satisfaction, peace and joy. Paul had this experience – let us pray that we also have it.

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