Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
The Value of the Good News
16 I shouldn't brag just because I tell others the Good News of Jesus. In fact, it's my responsibility. If I shouldn't tell others about Jesus, I should watch out! 17 If I freely choose to tell others, I receive God's reward. If I don't tell others, I still have the responsibility he gave me. 18 What is my reward from God? When I preach about Jesus, I do it without charging people a penny. In this way, I do not use all the power God gave me to make money.
19 When I am free from everyone's donations, I can concentrate on truly serving everyone. In this way, we can gain more followers for Jesus. 22 I become like the sick and the weak so they will follow Jesus. I'll do anything for anyone, so I might save some. 23 And I'll do anything for the gospel, so I might share in its promises.
16 For, if I should evangelize, (it) is not a brag for me. For, the necessity (of evangelization) lies upon me. For, woe is to me if I should not evangelize. 17 For if I do this willingly, I have a reward. But, if unwillingly, I have been entrusted with a commission. 18 So, what is my reward? That evangelizing, I might place the Good News without expense (before the listener) , not completely using my power to act in the Good News.
19 For being free from all, I make myself a servant to all, in order that I might gain more (converts). 22 I became weak to the weak, so I might gain the weak. I become everything to everyone, so in every way I might save some. 23 I do anything for the gospel, so I might become a partaker in it.
9:18 "not completely using my power to act in the Good News" Paul referred to his habit of economic self-sufficiency when he evangelized. In other words, he would not depend upon the hospitality of the host community for his room and board. Paul would work for his keep. (See 1 Corinthians 9:1-15 that addresses this issue.)
9:23 "I do anything for the gospel, so I might become a partaker in it." Paul was willing to go to any lengths to preach the gospel, so he might share in the eternal life the gospel promised. Paul did not differentiate between the means (preaching the Good News) and its end (eternal life). For Paul, the sufferings of his missionary life were worth the promised joys of the afterlife.
In 1 Corinthians 9, St. Paul defended his rights as an apostle. But, we must view his argument in the scope of hospitality, a cultural institution of the ancient world. Travelers depended upon the good will of local hosts. In turn, hosts used their hospitality as a badge of honor. The reputation of a gracious host was far better (and more influential) than that of the ordinary citizen. Indeed, the host of a famous guest could enjoy name-dropping and oneupmanship among his peers.
For Paul, the institution of hospitality was implicitly an impediment to evangelization. The focus should be on Christ, not on the host or the status of the guest. So, Paul chose to support himself as a "tent-maker," (Acts 18:3) a worker of leather that could have performed services for the Roman army. In this way, no one owed Paul a thing. And Paul didn't owe anything to anyone.
But, did the freely-given gospel have value to its audience? Here's where human nature takes hold. Everyone likes to receive something "free." But, at what point does "free" mean "disposable?" After all, worth is determined by cost. Why should Paul's audience value his message? And why should they respect him who preached "without cost?"
These insights may explain why Paul felt the necessity to defend the rights of the apostles. His message did have worth, far beyond the institution of hospitality, far beyond the whims of the listener. And the messenger of the Good News deserved respect. The "apostles" who dedicated their lives to ministry needed food, shelter, and money to continue the effort. They were worth the cost.
Perhaps the real motivation for Paul's lifestyle lay in the gift he preached, grace. Grace, the gift of God's very life, the gift without measure, was given freely to everyone. The message should reflect the gift it described. If the gift was free, Paul thought, so should his preaching. In this way, Paul could have reasoned, he lived out the grace he received. And so could all his listeners.
Ultimately, Paul presented the question of motivation. Why do we tell others the Good News? Like Paul, we may enjoy its benefits, but we should remember where it came from and how we received it. The Good News is a freely given gift from God. Like grace and the gift of the Spirit, it cannot be measured in a cost/benefit ratio. But it is a true treasure.
How have you show others the Good News? How have you enjoyed the Good News? How do you show yourself and others its ultimate worth?