The Epistle. I Corinthians xv. 1
Moreover brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand. By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the Grace of God, I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the Grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.
This is one of those Sundays when I feel somewhat sorry for whomever has to chant the Epistle. St. Paul is sometimes referred to as the “Patron saint of the run-on sentence”, and today is a perfect example. It’s easy for the reader to put the emphasis in the wrong spot or insert a comma where none exists. Then there’s the fact that we sometimes tend to tune out the Epistle lesson because it’s usually just St. Paul going on again about something.
We also tend to categorize Paul’s letters into one of two subjects; he’s either admonishing, or encouraging: he’ll sometimes slap people around and tell them to shape up, or he’ll tell them to hang in there because they’re really doing a good job. Sometimes, it’s both. Today is again a good example of that. And so, sometime during the first or second run-on sentence, we go “oh, that again”, and “click!”, we tune out. And when we do that, we miss the importance of his message and how it’s relevant to us today.
In the first place, St. Paul is writing this letter because he has heard some things about the church in Corinth that has him concerned. There appears to have been something of a division among the members and a debate about doctrine. There were disagreements about the nature of the Body of Christ, the message of the Gospel, and the nature of the ministry.
Now remember, this is all happening within the first 50 or so years after the Resurrection of Our Lord. And so our first lesson, one that was no doubt not intended by St. Paul, is that the Church has always been beset by heresies and “revisionist” thinkers. I think this is important because as we continue to battle heresy today, we must do so calmly and resolutely.
We must curb our outrage at all the “modern” heresies that we see today, because all too often outrage leads to anger. And Satan will make very good use of our anger. So, as we respond to heresy today, we must do so thoughtfully, purposefully, and with the conviction that comes from our Faith.
Next comes the passage I quoted at the beginning; Moreover brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand. The Gospel. Now as we all know, gospel means good news. In my mind, at least in this context, good news is what it is. Proven; unimpeachable; without dispute. The facts are right there before us, witnessed to by any number of people, obvious to anyone who will stop being obstinate and just listen.
Think about some good news that we may have witnessed just during our generation; man walked on the moon: the Berlin Wall was demolished: and Lebron James returned to Cleveland! (OK, that’s a personal one). Do we dispute any of these facts? Do we think that maybe the moon walks were just a Hollywood creation, or that the Berlin Wall demolition was just symbolic and not also real, or that Lebron came back just because he wanted to live closer to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Of course we don’t. And yet, think about it for a second; in just a few short years, a whole generation will come to maturity, who didn’t personally witness any of these events; in fact some already are. They may read history books or watch videos that depict these occasions, but they will be somewhat detached. It’s up to us to make sure that they see the reality of these events; it’s up to us to witness to the truth.
And so it is with the Gospel. We don’t have Youtube videos of the Resurrection. We didn’t personally witness Christ walking on earth after he Rose from the dead. All we have is the testimony of those who did; the Scriptures that detail those events: and the Faith that has been passed down to us; our belief in the good news of Jesus Sacrifice and the saving grace he has given us. Proven; unimpeachable; without dispute.
And so our second lesson is that we share a responsibility with all other Catholic Christians to proclaim that good news. We are required to pass along that heritage, that Faith; what we heard in the Scriptures from those witnesses and from the early Church; that was passed on to us by our fathers, our mothers, our priests and bishops; that we have believed; and by which we stand.
And finally, we have this; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. The word “diligence” comes to mind. I might also say thoroughness, attentiveness, conscientiousness.
In this Epistle, there are three different Greek words that have been translated in English as “vain”, and each has a slightly different meaning; “without effect”, “without success”, and “useless”.
If we are not diligent in maintaining our Faith, then what we do here will be “without effect”. If we are not thorough in our attention to the Gospel and to proclaiming it at every opportunity, then our efforts will be “without success”. If we do not believe and testify that Christ was truly raised from the dead, then our faith is “useless”.
And so our final lesson from St. Paul is that we must be diligent in our Faith. We are commanded to continue the battle against heresy on a daily basis through our life and witness. We have received the good news and we must stand on its unimpeachable and indisputable truth. And by doing so, we will show that our Faith is not in vain.
Moreover brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand.