When we are baptised, the Holy Spirit makes its home within us as its temple.
First Reading: 1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19
Psalm: Psalm 39(40):2, 4, 7-10
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20
Gospel: John 1:35-42
In these few weeks between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent, the lectionary gives us a more or less continuous reading from the middle of 1 Corinthians.
Just to help us situate where we are; Corinth was a vibrant city in Greece, near the narrow strip of land that connects Achaia (Athens) and the Peloponnese (the location of Sparta). In the Roman period, when Paul was writing, it was a new city built on the ruins of an older Greek one. The city had been re-founded as a Roman colony and was largely occupied by former Roman soldiers, but they were soon joined by a host of people from around the Empire drawn by the opportunities for trade. It was a city that we would probably call ‘entrepreneurial’ – think of New York, for example, or the City of London; a place where people would go to make a new life for themselves and try to make their fortune.
Paul lived in Corinth for over a year, and when he moved on, he remained in touch with the Corinthians through his letters. This first letter to his Corinthian friends was probably written around 55 CE, which is little more than 20 years after the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The immediate context for Paul’s letter was not very positive; the church in Corinth was divided. They were facing a lot of different and difficult issues, which is hardly surprising considering how young the whole Church was. There were questions that hadn’t been worked out yet and structures that weren’t yet in place.
By the time we reach chapter 6, which our reading today is taken from, Paul has moved onto talking about the human body. It seems that there were people in the church in Corinth who were frequenting parties which included sleeping with prostitutes, or who were attending the pagan temples where prostitutes were connected to the worship. In the culture of Corinth, this wasn’t unusual. The people involved seem to have justified it by saying that they were only using their bodies for what they were naturally meant for or (if they saw it as wrong) that Jesus had dealt with their sins already on the cross, so now they could enjoy the freedom that the cross had brought.
Paul’s response is to take us back to two fundamental truths of the gospel: the resurrection and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Let us focus on just one of those: our bodies, even now, are the temple of the Holy Spirit. As he makes clear at the end of the passage, Paul is saying that nothing in life is private; we can’t carve out a niche isolated from God. When we are baptised, the Holy Spirit makes its home within us as its temple. The temple of God is called to be holy, set apart for God, so remember what Jesus did when he found money changers in the old Temple! Just listen to these words from Solomon’s dedication of the old Temple: “Now, O my God, let your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers of this place” (2 Chronicles 6:40) – that applies equally to each of us today. Think also of how Mary was preserved from sin so that the Son could dwell within her womb. We might begin to glimpse now what a high calling it is to be the temple of God. That’s why how we live our lives matters so deeply.