The second reading for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time comes from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians:
"Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ." Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? ... For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power (1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 NRSV)"
I will admit to a certain amount of confusion regarding Paul’s command to the Corinthians “that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” The general admonition I of course understand, especially in the context of Corinth: people in the Church should not be dividing themselves on party lines based on a particular apostle or leader in the Church, such as Cephas (Peter), or Paul, or Apollos. As Paul says, “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The core of Christian unity is Jesus Christ himself, in whom we are all a part of the body of Christ. Regarding this, there should be no disagreement or division. We are to be “united in the same mind and the same purpose.”
What does it mean, though, to “be in agreement” when there are genuine disputes regarding the nature of a teaching, what it means and how it is to be applied? I take it that the Corinthians thought they were correct in what they were doing, as do most of us. If we attribute good will to those with whom we disagree, and they to us, until either is shown not to have it, how do we proceed regarding disagreements? There should always be a willingness to listen to the other person, to hear them, in the context of being “united in the same mind and the same purpose.” That “same mind” must be the mind of Christ, to which Paul refers a number of times in the letter to the Philippians (2:2, 2:5, 3:15, 4:2), urging the Christians there to share the same purpose, love of one another and Christ.
At its most basic level, then, it seems that to be in agreement and to have no divisions in the Church is, indeed, to see Christ, not a particular teacher or leader, at the core of our identity and our lives. He is our unifying principle. The actual application of this unity can take place only when we acknowledge those with whom we disagree as brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom we share a common goal and destiny, which is the Kingdom of God. I do not think it means allowing our deeply held convictions to flutter away in the wind whenever challenged – this was certainly not the way of the Apostle Paul - but to be aware that we might be wrong, that we might need to listen more carefully, and to ask that the one with whom we disagree do the same. Disagreements can clarify the truth if we seek the same mind, the mind of Christ. This remains difficult, though, because at the heart of having the same mind as Christ is having the same willingness as he to grasp humility and let it shape us in all of our relationships. One of the key problems that the Corinthians were burdened by according to Paul was being "puffed up" or "arrogant." No one likes to be wrong, but unity can only, ultimately, occur, when we are willing to consider that we might be.
John W. Martens
Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens