“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
St. Paul wrote his two letters to the Corinthian Church to gently guide them into the truth of the Gospel. From his other writings to them we can discern that they were a bit unruly. They tended to think that since they were saved by Christ, they could do whatever they wanted. It is a belief not unlike one held by many people today.
This passage that we heard today was written to tell the Corinthians that they are linked to the people of Israel, and needed to learn from them. Paul calls them “our ancestors” meaning they the Corinthians are the inheritors of a tradition that goes back all the way to the Exodus. The seminal event of the liberation of the Hebrew captives and the formation of them as God’s chosen people is an important component of who they are, and indeed who we are, as well.
In fact, it is St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews that gives us a better understanding of our ancestry, and the rationale for much of what we continue to do in our worship and service to our Lord.
St. Paul starts this section of his first letter to the Corinthians with a warning. First he tells them that their ancestors were under the cloud.
Here, St. Paul is referring to the cloud, such as contained the presence of God. Remember that the Hebrews were led by a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. This is from Exodus 13, which is the description of them being led by God on their journey through the wilderness, both night and day.
Also, in Exodus 40, verse 34 says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” The cloud in this instance is the very presence of God among them.
Paul is saying that the LORD was with them day and night. They passed through the sea and were baptized into Moses, in the cloud and in the sea, they ate the same spiritual food and drink from the rock which was Christ. St. Paul is connecting his readers with the formation of the chosen race by looking at the Old Testament with Christological eyes.
Then he tells them that God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Why does he tell them this? Isn’t God all forgiving and merciful? Can’t we do whatever we like and not worry about the wrath of God?
St. Paul tells the Corinthians, and us, that these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Don’t become idolaters as some of them did, he says.
We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did. We must not put Christ to the test. Remember what Jesus told the devil in the wilderness about testing God?
Do not complain as some of them did, says St. Paul. Remember how they complained about the manna from heaven? Back in Egypt we had good food, but here all we have is this… manna.
These thing were written down to instruct us, says St. Paul. That is why we read from the Old Testament every Sunday, because it is still relevant to us. Some pastors think we should get rid of the Old Testament, as it represents that mean old God, and we just want the loving God of Jesus.
Good preachers do not shy away from the difficult lessons of the Old Testament. These lessons can still give us instruction on our behavior.
“If you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall,” wrote St. Paul.
It seems that the Corinthians thought they had it made. They met together regularly, they had participated in the prayers, and the breaking of the bread, but perhaps they were not following the commandments as well as they could be. Perhaps they had become complacent about their salvation.
This makes me want to ask myself, “Have I become complacent about my faith in the Lord?”
The words of Jesus that we heard today have a message for us, too. Someone had asked him about an incident with some Galileans who had been persecuted by Pilate, wondering if it was because of their sins.
Jesus asked if they were any worse sinners than all other Galilean.
He then said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
He then asked about some who had been killed by the collapse of the tower of Siloam, whether they were any worse sinners than all those living in Jerusalem.
Again he said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Saying it twice served to reinforce it in their minds. There was no need to ask if someone else was a sinner. Instead, he urged them to repent of their own sins.
When we say that Lent is a penitential season in the Church, we mean that we all are urged to look at our own behavior that much more closely, and to see where we need to repent.
It is a time for me to look at my life to see what I am putting in the way of my relationship with Jesus. Do I continue to sin when I know it’s wrong? Do I take advantage of others in subtle ways? Do I insist on my own way when it comes to others?
We are all sinners, none any worse than the others, and we are all in need of our Savior. And he is a patient Lord. In the parable of the fig tree, the owner wanted to cut it down as it wasn’t producing fruit, and his told the gardener to do it. The gardener suggested giving it a little more time and come care to see if it would produce, then if not it could be cut down.
The Lord is watching our lives, too. Do we produce the fruit of righteousness, the fruit of the Spirit? If not, do we need more time and care to get there? I hope I have a lot more time to produce the fruit that the Lord expects.
And I hope that I can take this time to repent of the sins that keep me from producing the fruit of righteousness. May we all take this time to confess our sins to the Lord, and repent and draw closer to the the God of our Salvation. Amen.