The National Catholic Review

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

Comments

NORMA NUNAG | 1/23/2011 - 9:37pm
Great point/reflection.  You nailed it!   As Dr. Phil would ask those who come to him with relationship issues:  Do you want peace and be happy, or  insist you are  right?
Michelle Russell | 1/23/2011 - 1:08pm
"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."

I think the statement above hits the nail on the head.  We are social creatures, and it is very easy, I think, for most of us to attach ourselves to a person (a teacher, leader, etc...), to "follow" their teachings and interpretations, and to have Christ in the background instead of the other way around.  As much as I sometimes have trouble following Paul, his theology and sentence structure (I have learned to read him very slowly!), he seems to be very grounded in what is most important and is a good model for us today.  As much as we honor and hold up our leaders, we, and they, should remain grounded in Jesus.  There will certainly be technical disagreements, but at the end of the day, we should be able to join together as brothers and sisters in Christ.  For a difference of opinion is just that, and I certainly am not the holder of all truth and knowledge! 

To humble ourselves, to allow our hearts to remain open (or to at least allow for the possibility of our hearts to BE opened), to allow for a certain vulnerability in our lives...perhaps if these attitudes informed our discourse, we could more easily keep Christ central in our hearts and in our relationships with our fellow men.  And maybe even more basic that realizing we might be wrong is accepting that someone else might be right :-).