“The seed dies into a new life, and so does man.” ~ George MacDonald
Saint Paul covers a lot of ground in today’s 1st Reading (1 Corinthians 6:1-11), beginning with his frustration over the Corinthians incessant need for having recourse to the Roman Court System in order to settle their disputes. “Can it be that there is not one among you wise enough to be able to settle a case between brothers? But rather brother goes to court against brother, and that before unbelievers?” This had to be particularly maddening to Paul in light of the fact that a legal apparatus had been developed and put into place for the people of Corinth for this very purpose, yet it was being largely ignored.
He then moves on to discuss several sins of the flesh that would prevent one from entering the Kingdom of Heaven, troublesome vices that remain very problematic in our society today, exacerbated by the fact that many of these disordered behaviors are celebrated and glorified. Finally, he speaks of Christian baptism and it’s effects.
Paul finds it unacceptable that the people of Corinth are attempting to remedy their disputes by taking them to the pagan courts of the Romans rather than resolving and arbitrating affairs amongst themselves. He cautions them against this, explaining that believers should be able to remedy their disputes amongst themselves. To do otherwise would reflect poorly on the Christian community, which would ultimately prohibit the spreading of the Gospel Message. He goes so far as to say that it would be better for one to suffer an injustice silently than to bring scandal upon the community by way of petty public disputes, especially if one Christian is defrauding another. This was the type of irrevocable scandal that could squash the Christian movement before it even got off the ground.
“Do not be deceived,” Paul continues, “neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God.” He speaks out against these sins as a stern warning, a reminder not to return to the pagan ways of their past wherein they were ruled by their passions. The lure of sin is strong, this we can all attest to, and Paul knew he had to be vigilant in warning them to guard against the deception of Satan, who has gone to great lengths to earn his title as the Father of Lies. He knew that deception would quickly degenerate into paganism, that vice would become virtue as virtue became vice. Due to the Evil One’s relentless nature, every society in every age must battle this lie. Just recently, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi described the lack of “reproductive healthcare“ ~ code for unfettered access to the killing of the unborn on demand ~ as sinful. Here again we see a prominent pawn of Satan calling evil good and good evil. There is no place in the Kingdom of Heaven for evil.
Paul then reinforces the power of the Sacrament of Baptism. In referring back to the sins mentioned earlier in the passage, Paul reminds the people of Corinth that they are prisoners to vice no more, this due to the sacramental grace of their baptism. He uses three words: washed, sanctified and justified. Once hopeless and doomed to death, the Corinthians were redeemed and renewed by the washing of baptism. God‘s grace and forgiveness can rescue even the worst of sinners from their otherwise deadly vices.
Washed, sanctified and justified.
These are the effects of Christian Baptism, through which sinners are cleansed of guilt, made holy, and adopted as heirs of eternal life.
We are all called to holiness of life and the pursuit of Christian virtue. While never easy, with God’s help it is most certainly possible. In the words of Christian author Max Lucado, “Grace is God's best idea. His decision to ravage a people by love, to rescue passionately, and to restore justly - what rivals it? Of all his wondrous works, grace, in my estimation, is the magnum opus.”