Followers of Christ are meant to be people who live on the edge of their seats; ready and watchful.
First Reading: Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm: Psalm 24(25):4-6, 7b-9
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
Last week we began a little mini-series through this section of 1 Corinthians. Today, we continue having jumped ahead slightly to the next chapter. In last week’s reflection we reflected on the importance of the Holy Spirit living within us as in a temple, and of the impact that reality should have on the way we live our lives. St. Paul continues that theme in today’s reading by calling on us to put life into proper, gospel perspective.
We parachute into chapter 7 at verse 29. It’s always good to put things into context. Before the verses Paul concentrates on the call each one of us has to live the life that God has given us. Immediately before it he gives a difficult teaching on marriage and celibacy. He is clearly reticent in verses 25 to 28 in giving advice on his own authority on a subject Jesus had not addressed. And so makes a recommendation based on his own personal judgement. Paul and all the members of the early Chrisitan communities were expecting the Risen Christ to return very soon, in their generation, to bring about fulfilment of God’s Reign. This relativised in his mind the everyday realities of falling in love and starting a family, or remarrying if widowed. All energy should go into preparing for the return of Christ. They expected Jesus to come back, and for the world to be rolled up like a carpet, imminently. We have lost that sense of urgency.
So Paul’s initial answer, while surprising to us, makes a certain sense! In short, he says this: if you’re unmarried, don’t seek to be married. If you are married, stay married but live as if you aren’t married. We could perhaps spiritualise this passage; is Paul talking about discerning celibacy? The type of celibacy priests and religious are called to? At other points in the New Testament that call to discernment is made, but not so much here; Paul seems to be making a radically broad statement. Let’s just think about that statement for a moment: if you’re unmarried, don’t seek to be married, don’t seek to start a family. If you are married, live as if you aren’t. But if nobody were to start a family, what would happen to humanity? We would die out after one generation! But not every human being will listen to Paul, so what about the Church? If everyone in the Church had obeyed this, the Church would have died out by now!
We don’t need to be too concerned, though, remember that Paul prefaced this by confessing that he was giving his own personal opinion, and he gives us his clear reasoning: the world is passing away. This is all about perspective. Paul was urging the Corinthians, as we are likewise urged today, to live in the light of eternity. Jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension has begun the endgame for the world. In his own lifetime he realises the coming maybe longer and in that perspective he gives a rich vision, of life and family love for the longer haul, in his letter to the Ephesians. Yet we are always to live as though ready to meet the Lord whenever he comes, as those being transformed by his teaching and living reconciling lives in our world. Live like that means something to you! Live like that makes a difference! Followers of Christ are meant to be people who live on the edge of their seats; ready, vigilant, watchful. Remember what the angel said on the day the Lord ascended into heaven: this Jesus will come back, just as you have seen him go.