In today’s reading from the New Testament Book of Acts, St. Paul is presented in the midst of his missionary adventures. He is introducing people to Christ and inviting them to share Christ’s gifts in the Church in the Greek city of Corinth.
An interesting detail in today’s scripture is that St. Paul embedded himself in the local culture, living and working among the people of Corinth. He was not sequestered in faith-based institutions, limiting his contact to only those who were already Christians, but he was out and about in the culture. His testimony to the faith was public. His testimony to Christ and the Church was embodied in his way of life, a way of life that was lived in the midst of the reality of the world.
St. Paul’s testimony and his way of life was a definite challenge to the status quo of the world in which he lived. He did not proclaim a false gospel that simply affirmed and accommodated the prevailing values of his time and also, he did not proclaim a false gospel that privatized his Christian convictions. St. Paul in no way advocated the Church should simply retreat from the world, becoming little more than a private club or discussion group. His advocacy was that God in Christ was living and present, active and working, in the Church, so that the world might be changed. St. Paul insisted that Christians were to be Christ’s agents of cultural transformation and they would do this by living out the principles of their unique way of life in the midst of the world.
The Church’s faith is not merely a private matter, but instead is always a public act. The Church is not merely ideas and opinions, but a unique way of life. The Church’s role vis a vis culture, and by culture is meant all human concerns, political, economic, religious, artistic, etc, is not simply affirmation and accommodation, but transformation.
That’s what St. Paul was doing in Corinth. In his efforts to invite people to know the Lord Jesus and accept a new way of life called the Church, St. Paul was inviting people to participate in a mission to transform the world.
That he did this locally, embedding himself among ordinary people who would become his neighbors should impress upon us that our own witness to Christ belongs in our own neighborhood. If we are not imitating St. Paul, by showing up as Christians in the midst of our own local culture, in our own neighborhood, then we are not getting the lesson of the Book of Acts.
In what ways are you intentionally making your unique way of life as a Christian evident to others in your own neighborhood? What are you willing to do to introduce people to Christ and invite people to share your way of life in the Church? In what ways are the resources of your own parish being used to help you help others to know Christ in his Church?
Each generation must meet Christ for the first time and it is the mission of each generation of Christians who know Christ to make that introduction.
What St. Paul did is what God in Christ wants us to do.
Christ speaks cryptically, mysteriously in his Gospel about his departure. What he intends for us his disciples to understand is that they have come to know him in a particular way- they have come to know him in the body of his Incarnation.
But soon, they will know him differently- they will meet him in a new kind of body, the body of the Church.
The Church is not for us Christians merely an institution, but it is an encounter with Christ himself. Christ is living, acting, working in the Church. Once, through the Incarnation, Christ revealed himself to the world, and now, that revelation happens in the Church.
If we treat the Church as merely an institution, our experience of its reality will flatten out and become frustrating. As a result, the Church will falter and fail. But is we treat the Church as an encounter with Christ, then he will reveal himself to us, imbue our lives with meaning and purpose, and send us out, as he sent our his first disciples, on the greatest of adventures.