Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
The Power of the Good News
1 I told you about the Good News. I preached it to you. You believed in it. You hold onto it tightly. And it is saving you right now. 2 That's what I preached to you. So, hold it dearly. If you don't, you believe in vain.
3 I passed along the most important thing I received. Christ died for our sins, just as it said in the Bible. 4 He was buried and rose again three days later, just like it said in the Bible. 5 Peter and, then, the other Twelve saw him. 6 Next, over five hundred followers saw him at one time. Many of those followers are still alive, but some have died. 7 James and the other apostles saw him. 8 Last of all, I saw him in a way that was like a premature birth. 9 For, I am the least important apostle. In fact, I don't deserve to be called an apostle because I persecuted the Church. 10 But I am an apostle because of God's grace. And his grace is alive in me, for I work harder than any other apostle. But, it's not me that's working hard. It's God's grace that's with me. 11 So, it doesn't matter if I preached to you or someone else did. We told you about Jesus. And, so, you believed.
1 I made known to you the Good News, that I evangelized among you, (that) which you received, (that) in which you have stood, 2 through which you are being saved, in which word I evangelized among you, if you hold onto, certainly unless you believed without good reason.
3 I passed along to you in the first (of importance) what I received: that Christ died on behalf of our sins according to the Scriptures; 4 that he was buried and he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures; 5 he was seen by Kephas, then the Twelve; 6 then he was seen by more than five hundred brothers all at once, out of whom more remain (alive) until now, but some fell asleep (in death); 7 then he was seen by James, then all of the apostles. 8 But, certainly last of all, as a premature birth, he also appeared to me. 9 For I am least of the apostles, as I am not worthy to be called "apostle," because I persecuted the Church of God. 10 But, by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace did not become empty in me, but I worked to a greater degree than all of them, but (indeed) not I, but the grace of God [the (one)] with me. 11 So, whether I or those (other preachers), we proclaimed, and so you believed.
15:1 "Good News" is "evangelion" in Greek. So, the next phrase "that I evangelized among you" is redundant; the verb "evangelize" the verb form of the noun "evangelion." Paul used this language for emphasis.
15:1-2 This sentence focused on Paul's "evangelion" (i.e., Good News). After the main clause, he built an "A-B-A" structure. His preaching of the Good News ("evangelized") forms the "A" that highlighted the origin of the community ("(that) which you received"), it reason for being ("in which having stood"), and its direction ("through which you are being saved"). In other words, the Good News Paul preached resulted in the establishment of the community at Corinth and the salvation of that community. If the members deviated from that Good News, their faith was in vain.
15:3b-8 Did Paul argue out of a strict time frame? Or did he rearrange the time frame for his argument? Clearly, 15:3b-5 was the correct time sequence: Jesus died, rose, and was seen by Peter (Kephas in Aramaic) and the Twelve. But, the rest of the sequence could be questioned. Was Paul really the last to see the Risen Lord? Or, did he use the end position to argue that he was "least of the apostles?" While a definitive answer was not possible, Paul did argue the "last is first" in 15:10; he worked harder than any other apostle.
15:8 "as a premature birth" implied a near miscarriage. The result of Jesus' appearance to Paul was a weak, sickly, almost near-death reaction. Paul did not immediately change into the bold preacher of the Good News that the Pentecost experience implied. Instead, he was cut down in stature, from that of a proud man to that of babe, a person whose raison d'etre had just been taken away from him. (See Acts 9:1-19)
What saps the Church of it energy? More than heresy, backbiting, gossip, and judging others misdirects and ultimately corrupts the community. These vices have been the implied themes Paul railed against in First Corinthians. Over and over, he tried to refocus the sights of the Corinthians on the Good News and its implications for life (i.e., the greater spiritual gift of wisdom and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity). In this passage, he again set his sights on the Good News itself.
Paul clearly believed the "evangelion" itself had power. For it was an encounter with Christ. The "evangelion" was the reason the community began. When Paul preached the Good News, people responded in faith. The "evangelion" was the reason the community existed. The faithful "stood firm" in the faith. And the "evangelion" was the instrument of salvation. Through the Good News, the faithful met Christ, hence they were being saved. This last phrase needs to be emphasized. Salvation was dynamic, ever present, AS LONG AS CHRIST WAS PRESENT. Hence the preaching of the Good News and its constant reception by the faithful (forever offer and acceptance), were instruments of Christ acting in the world. Through preaching and faith, people realize Christ is present. So, they can always say "Yes" to the gift God offers them.
Since the Reformation, there has been a split over the instrumentality of salvation through the word preached. Some connect the preacher as the instrument. Others focus upon the Good News proclaimed. Clearly, in 15:1-2, the latter was emphasized. Paul may have preached, but the Good News saved the believer. However, in 15:3-11, the former was emphasized. The apostles were those "sent by" the Risen Christ. They shared not only the Good News, but their experience of Revelation. In this sense, Good News was tactile. What they saw and touched and heard changed them. And it had the power to change others. After they encountered the Risen Lord, they became the face of Christ to others.
Of course, Paul noted the irony of the experience. He experienced the Risen Lord on the way to Damascus. In the encounter, his world was ripped apart. His world view and belief system was turned upside down and inside out. He was no longer the Pharisee who zealously lived out obedience to the Law. He was now the Christian preacher who experienced God outside the Law. And he lived the rest of his life passing that experience along to others.
Paul drew a direct, clear line of ministry to the appearance of Jesus. And he charged his audience to carry on the mission. Evangelization, then, was more than bringing the words of the Good News to life. It was to live the Good News to the extent that it inspired others to believe. In other words, evangelization was to be the presence Christ for others. That presence begins with an experience of the Risen Christ that began with another believer. The ongoing chain of experiences traced its way from us, through the Church, to the apostles that saw the Risen Lord.
What saps the Church of its energy? Its strength? Clearly, anything that takes it away from its primary mission: to be Christ to the world. Paul's message to the Corinthians could not be more relevant today.
Who has been Christ for you? How do they inspire you to be Christ for others? Why is it true that, no matter who evangelizes, the end result (i.e., faith) is most important?