Sunday, January 31, 2021
In the second reading St. Paul says a few things that make us feel uncomfortable today, not because of mistaken thoughts of ours, nor because Paul's remarks lack sense and truthfulness. Our discomfort flows from the failure to see the questions that Paul is treating here. As always in life, unfamiliar with the question one cannot understand the answer correctly.
Paul speaks about the unmarried and those in marriage, in his time, not today in our society and with our cultural memory. In his days and in his society, the single person counted as an oddity. There were no models of this sort of life to which one might look up as inspiring examples to imitate. No respectable person lived in this way voluntarily. Now imagine the surprise, when in the Christian community some members choose to refrain from marriage, because Jesus had spoken of those who would abstain from sex for the sake of the kingdom, and he had added, “Whoever is able to grasp it, let him grasp it.” Those who remained single for the sake of the kingdom made many contemporaries raise their eyebrows; they cause astonishment and appear in the congregation as peculiar persons. People wonder what to make of this kind of life. “Living single for the sake of the Lord Jesus” needs explanation.
Now we begin to see the question Paul is discussing. He seeks to justify the option of some members of the community to remain unmarried. The answer is: They do it for the Lord. “The unmarried person is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” Is that not also true of the married person? Of course, it is, generally speaking. Yet in their situation they must inevitably attend also to other concerns, for the partner, for the family, for getting on in society. Therefore, Paul speaks of being divided. The unmarried can allow themselves to neglect a great deal of these demands of ordinary life. They can afford to be much more radical in their endeavor for the Lord. The Corinthian community is baffled by this option; Paul insists, it is an excellent choice to be so completely for the Lord. Paul is aware, not everybody will feel the same way, and therefore he adds at once, “I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you.”
Today we live in very different social circumstances. The worries of the Corinthian community are no longer ours. We are familiar with monks and nuns – we owe them marvelous achievements in our history and recognize their services in our present setting. We are also familiar with persons who live single, man or woman, and we know a broad range of good reasons and motivations that guide them. Hence, we are not troubled by the particular questions which Paul treats in this letter.
Nevertheless, the reminder to be for the Lord, and his word about adherence to the Lord does us good, and is surely not superfluous. All of us, married as well as single, are permanently tempted to become anxious about the things of this world, in a measure that at the end we live unfocussed and cease living for the Lord. Taking that choice would of course be a serious mistake. Amen
Fr. Dietmar Lenfers