August 1, 2018 Author: Dr. Jacob Palliparambil OCD 0 Comments

Following the footsteps of the Old Testament’s covenant community and treading the path of Jesus’ Kingdom spiritual vision, Paul envisages Christian communities which are in constant movement towards communion and building up of communion.  In the mind of Paul, Christian is a Spirit soaked person who is intrinsically and dynamically spurred to communion.  Christian communities are made up of such dynamic individuals, who are inwardly propelled towards communion with one another and with God.  Though Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ set apart according to God’s plan (1Cor 1:1), is a radical exponent of individual justification, sanctification and glorification, yet he does not advocate an individualistic style of life for the members of the community.  He does not propose to them a life which is closed from within or closed towards their fellow beings.  But communion is the benchmark of Pauline Spirituality.

When we consider Pauline Spirituality from the community towards communion perspectives, we shall first take into account the actual situation of the communities which came under the care of Paul.  We shall become aware of their divisive and disintegrated states, which prompted Paul to write to them. This is going to be our first task. Secondly, we shall deal with theological principles that made them a communion.  He brought to their mind the basic principles that bound them together, exhorted them to communion and warned them against division.  Thirdly, we focus our attention on concrete occasions for the praxis to create communion among the Christians in Corinth. Fourthly, bring to our attention to the practice of sharing, which Paul introduced into the communities with the custom of collection for the poor in Jerusalem.

The Reality of Division and Disintegration within the Communities

Persons who form the Christian communities are inserted into the Risen Lord, the New Adam, who is the only real image of God and first born of all creation.  But anterior to this new state of communion, they have a past, which speaks of their union with the Old man, the first Adam.  It is the general tenet of Old Covenantal faith that the first Adam’s sin affected the whole humanity and each and every single person born as the progeny of Adam. Like all the Jewish people of his times, Paul also believed in the original sin. He was convinced that the whole humanity up to Christ is Admamitic humanity.  All men and women deriving from the first Adam dependent on him, are determined by him, grow together with him and in a sense are identical with him. Everyone is Adam and Adam is in every one.  This is a communal fate from which no one can escape, just as no one can escape from belonging to a clan, a people or a particular age.  Hence there are disintegrating roots within each person and therefore in the communities of which they are formed.  Let us recall here some of these divisive and disintegrating elements.

Disintegrated Creation: First of all, the whole creation, which is in travail,  is clamouring for redemption from slavery.  Paul has the following statements regarding this bondage: “the whole creation is subjected to futility” (Rom 8:20), creation is “bondage to decay” (Rom 8:21) and “the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now” (Rom 8:22).  Paul perceives within creation a disintegration which is not manifest at once to the ordinary human observation.  It is evident to only those who are very perspective to the rhythms of nature and the order underlying it.  Terms such as futility, bondage, decay, groaning and labour pain give a sense of deep feeling of deep rooted division within the nature and within its forces. There are disorders, disasters and calamities in nature, which seems to go beyond God’s original purpose and aim.

Division of Humanity: Secondly, humanity is divided into irreconcilable groups, which affect all the persons and communities.  In the teachings of Paul, we discover two irreconcilable groups.  They are the Jews and Gentiles.  Paul’s understanding of these divided peoples in humanity is discernable, when he expounded the sins of the whole humanity.  He says that the whole humanity has sinned against God and fallen short of the glory of God. All are the objects of God’s wrath.  In this context, he speaks of the sins of the Gentiles and Jews separately, as if they were two sections of the whole humanity. Paul enumerates first the sins of the Gentiles, beginning with the sin of idolatry to their incapacity to discern good from evil (Rom 1:18-32).  After a lengthy exposition of Gentiles crimes against God, Paul enumerates the sinful state of the Jews. They were given revelation to know not only good from evil, but also the excellent from the good.  They had the knowledge of all the moral goods, but   were unable to practise them.  Their behaviour became the primary cause for the Gentiles’ blaspheming of God (Rom 2: 17-24).  Paul reached this fatal conclusion: “for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin” (Rom 3: 9-13).  In the society the Jews and Gentiles lived apart and did not contact each other in the social and religious life.

Paul speaks of this division among the humanity into Jews and Gentiles, when Paul speaks of Christ as the bringer of peace to the humanity.  Paul writes in the letter to the Ephesians: “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall , that is, the hostility between us” (Eph 2:11-14) .  It is clear from the text that Paul refers to a dividing wall between two peoples in the humanity. It is Christ who brought unity and communion among them. But before Christ’s arrival into the world and his saving death on the cross, there was a deep-rooted division in the humanity.

Disintegration with the human person:  Thirdly, we are able to discern a deep rooted disintegration within the human person.  All who human beings – lived in the past, live today, and will live in future in all the nooks and corners of the world – experience inner conflicts from within.  It is our common experience that the good that we do wish cannot be carried out, but the evil that we do want to avoid is performed by us.  Almost in an autobiographical description, Paul laments over this crucial tug between the good and evil within him, when he writes to the Romans: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…for I do not do the good I want, but the evil. I do not want what I do” (Rom 7: 15.19).  Living in this present world, man has to go through this conflict and there should be an inner discerning capacity for the Christians (Gal 1:4; Rom 12:2).  Paul proclaimed that man is redeemed from these divisive and disintegrating forces outside and within him through Jesus Christ in accordance with the project of God the Father.  A new man is born with Jesus Christ, who is not only capable to discern good from evil, but is also rendered capable to fulfill what is good.

Principles that Establish Communion in the Communities

Death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has brought with it a new reality. A new way of life is established. “From now on, therefore, we regard n one from  human point  of view , even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has, become new!” (2Cor. 5:16-17).  Disintegration within the nature, between human groups and within the human being is removed. Instead, reconciliation between God and man, between man and man and between nature and man has taken place.  New principles of communion are established.  Paul gives different terms to this new reality.  The terms he uses are very meaningful.  They are theologically and spiritually pregnant with deep significances. Such terms are: justification, sanctification, glorification, reconciliation, and transformation. All these concepts convey the spiritual dynamics that take place within the individuals by his/her faith in Jesus Christ.  The individuals form into a community of the justified, sanctified, glorified, reconciled and transformed persons, who live in communion.  They reach that stage of communion of persons, because they all are united as one with Jesus Christ, by their being adopted as children of one and same God the Father and by their formation into one body of Jesus Christ.  Each of these ideas becomes the foundation stones or the principles that hold together community, which is communion.

Communion with Jesus Christ:  The first principle of communion is enunciated by Paul as our communion with Jesus Christ.  The expression, “in Christ”, expresses this basic Pauline idea.  All those who are baptized are one in Christ Jesus.  In the letter to the Galatians, while speaking of the new dispensation in Christ Jesus, Paul introduces a fundamental principle of communion of those who are part of the new community: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves into Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is male or female , for all of you are in Christ Jesus” (3: 27-28).  He is addressing the new humanity that is already a concrete reality actualized in the Galatians’ churches.  This text is t be read in the context of the baptismal liturgy.  But what is important to us is the fact that Paul is speaking here in the context of the Galatians who were led astray by the Judaizers who demanded from them circumcision as a necessary condition to be saved.  Paul, in opposition to it, is showing that there is no merit in itself to the external act of circumcision, because God has offered to all salvation through faith.  When we read this text in this larger context, we understand that Paul is bringing to their attention their effective reality as a new community, even they stem from different regions, nations, races, social and cultural strata. On account of their baptism into Christ, they have put on Jesus Christ and the dignity of one single noble person. The intimate presence of Jesus Christ in their lives makes them one being.  All of them, irrespective of their origin and status form one community and is one single communion, as long as they are inserted into the glorified body of Christ through baptism.

What noteworthy in the above cited text is that Paul affirms that the gender distinction is also obsolete for the new community.  Differences of gender are a natural trait of living being and naturally of the human beings. Paul does not mean that such a natural and physical distinction will disappear in the new community. He does mean however that all undue importance given to gender distinction will vanish within the new community and does not carry weight for the question of salvation.  He means to say that the members of the new community should not rely on the external factors to determine their salvation, which God offers them in Christ freely.  At the last analysis, what Paul advocates is simple.  All distinctions based on nationality, religion, social status and gender have been abolished in the new community. Hence Christian community should not be led astray by these distinctions and differences among human beings, even though other human communities hold them high or judge one another by them.  Paul is warning the Christians of his time that the circumcision and the law of Moses in their external appearances can be detrimental to their communion, even undue importance is given to them.  They can destroy their inner communion, which Jesus Christ established through his death and resurrection in each one of them, for such old and external practices.

But it is in the letter to the Colossians that communion nature of the Christian community is underlined with greater stress. In Col 3:11, we read this pungent statement: “In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, Circumcised and Uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, Slave and Free; but Christ is all in all”. The text forms part of the exhortation, which Paul is giving to the community at Colossae.  In this section, Paul has already made an appeal to the members of the community to put to death whatever is earthly and strip themselves of the old self with all its evil practices. Once again we have reference to the baptism, which they have received, when they have put on Jesus Christ. A radical renewal of the person has already taken place.  Now they have to live according to this new life, for this renewal is not yet fully achieved by them.  In daily praxis of their Christian life, they must not turn to the old self, which advocated distinction of their fellow men into different classes on account of their birth and social standing.  This is to be abolished among them.  This is a call to the universal brother hood on account of Jesus Christ who is all in all. 

Adoption as Children of God:  The second foundation stone of communion which Paul advocates is his concept of the Christians’ adoption as the children of God.  Adoption of the Christians as the children of God is a high theological theme, which has been much studied.  To put the idea in few words, we may affirm that all those who believe in Jesus Christ and are baptized in Christ are the children of God by their being integrated with God’s Son Jesus Christ.  He is the first born of the Father and is first fruit from the dead.  In His Son all men and women are sons and daughters of God.  The Holy Spirit brings about this transformation within the human person.  In this process of adoption we are made members of God’s family.  Deep down it, there is the idea of the Most Holy Trinity, as the principle of this communion of the human being with God Himself – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The whole love of the Father , the whole love of the redeeming  work of Christ, the whole renewing power of the Holy Spirit, are reflected in it.  We are the perfect reflection of all the loving activities of the Holy Trinity.  We must keep also in mind that this idea of sonship is not merely individual, but it is, like the Old Testament concept of the people of God, communitarian in nature. While the individual is entering into communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he is also in a new relationship with other fellow men, both to those who are united in Christ’s baptism,, but also to  those who form par to the humanity. Horizontal dimension of this process of adoption as the children of God should never be watered down or put aside in our spiritual life.  As there is a deep new relationship with God, the Father, Son and the Spirit through the adoption as sons/daughters of God, there is also a much more deep and transcendental relationship among all those who are inserted into Jesus Christ and have thus become members of God’s family. We must keep in mind that Sonship is collective in nature, and not individualistic.  Thus it forms another foundation stone of the communion among the Christians.

The Body of Christ:  The third foundation stone of communion is Paul’s introduction of the Body into the concept of the community, which is called to be communion.  He introduces this metaphor for understanding of the nature and functioning of the members of the Christian community.  Paul qualifies in his letters the Christian community as the body of Christ. Paul writes about in several parts of his letters (1Cor 6:15-18; 10:6-22; 12:12-31; Rom 12: 5-8; Col 1: 18-19; Eph 1:22-28; 4:4.11-12.15-16), which manifest the importance and relevance he gave to this idea of the Community interrelated and intimate relationship. Our aim is not bring out all the messages of these texts, but  to point out what is most relevant to our discussion on the communion found in 1 Cor. 12:13.  In this text, Paul observes: “For in one Spirit we were baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slave or free – for we were all made to drink of one Spirit”.  In the whole context of 1Cor 12:12-31, this Pauline observation is to be taken, if we want to relate 1Cor 12:13 to our discussion of the communities as call to communion of life.  In the context, the Apostle is speaking of the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to each member of the community.  All are given, irrespective of their natural belongingness to a particular nation or social status, because in baptism they have become one Spirit. All the gits are given for particular functions in the community and for the growth of the whole community.  The Spirit does not make any distinction between them, when it endows gifts on them.  In this instance the exhortation of Paul to the community seems to be not to make any distinction about the gifts of the Spirit on account of the persons who possess them.  Just as all gifts are important for the growth of community, so also the bearers of these gifts are also equal and important.  It implies that the community must not discriminate the gifts basing on the religious, national or social background of the member, who possesses the gift of the Spirit.  Those Christians who have come from the Jewish upbringing, the Gentiles who come from a very immoral living background, the slaves who are ignorant and the poor and the free who enjoy no social liberty have all an equal share in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, because they all equally belong to Christ.  Hence all these gifts, irrespective of those who exercise them, are to be respected and utilized in the community. No judgement is to be passed by the members, looking only into the possessors of these gifts.  This is to be the right attitude of communion among the members of the community.

This aspect of communion is further developed by Paul, when he tells the Christians that all these gifts are for the common growth of the members: “Let all things be done for building up” (1Cor 14:16). The whole community, that is to say, each and every part of the community members is growing in maturity and perfection as each member is using his/her gift within or for the community.  The very fact that one member of the community strives towards holiness; the whole community is striving and growing in it.  The reverse is also true with regard to it.  Hence within the community the sole principle should be love that unites, edifies and transforms (1Cor 13: 1- 3).  It also implies that all the members cooperate and collaborate with one another, so that the body functions in a health and smooth manner (1Cor 12:15-26).

Test of Communion in the Corinthian Community

Paul established different communities within the Roman Empire.  We have concrete proofs of their existence and of their way of life from the letters which Paul wrote to them, some of which have come down to us.  From these letters we know about the concrete situations of thee churches of their community life.  There were the testing grounds of these teachings on the communion.  Much more than idealist vision of community in communion of love, they give us concrete examples of communion and testify to their genuine efforts to create communities of communion in their midst.  We should not however be surprised by the problems and scandals that arose in these newly formed Christian communities. But we should rather focus our attention on their striving after a communion of love amidst a pagan world which was immersed in selfish and egoistic culture.  Though the Christians were transformed into children of God through their vital insertion into Christ through the Spirit, yet they were living in their pagan cultural contexts and with their own inner personal restrictions and limitations.  Though their call was to heights of communion of love, yet they were constantly pulled down to the ground realities of the “present evil age” (Gal 1:4), which was full of division and disintegration. All the early Christian communities must faced problems and issues, when they tried to live according the communion of love ideal.  We shall here refer to the main problems and challenges that the Christian community at Corinth faced and Paul’s interventions to heal their aberrations.  His suggestions and corrections to this community reveal also the process of communion that was at work with the Christian communities of that epoch.

Division within the Community:  The most grievous problem that the Corinthian community faced against communion was division due the formation of different groups.  The groups were formed under the titles of the preachers of the Gospel.  Groups were formed around Paul, Apollo, Cephas and Christ (1Cor 1:10-17). Paul warns them that such groups will cause division in the community and will be detrimental to communion. Groups within the community will at the end destroy the unity of purpose, which brought them together as community.  The very formation of such groups is based on the worldly wisdom and is seeking after power, but the basis of Christian communion is the foolishness of the Cross revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. He reminds them that it is Jesus Christ who was crucified for their salvation and not these preacher-leaders and that Jesus was crucified not for one or other group, but for the whole humanity (1Cor 1:18-31). Leader-preachers are only servants and instruments in the hands of God. As these preachers, even Paul himself, were not crucified for the salvation of others, they do not have any power to them or to save from their sins.  Paul is imploring them to live in communion with one another in one community under the standard of the Cross of Christ. They together have to proclaim to the whole world through their life of communion that Jesus Crucified alone is the wisdom and power of God.  Their own communion is an implicit testimony that Jesus Crucified is the only solution to the divisive and disintegrated world (1Cor 3:1-15; 4:1-7).

Immoral Practices among the community members:  In the Corinthian community Paul mentions two incidents that speak of the immoral practices of some members.  One of them dared to do something which even the Gentiles did not practise.  He lived with his own father’s wife.  The woman might have been most probably the concubine of his living or dead father (1Cor 5:1).  Paul is shocked by it and is charged with fury against the whole community: “And you are arrogant!” . He then demands his expulsion from the community with this question: “Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?” (1Cor 5:2). In Paul’s understanding this act by one of the members of the community has desecrated the whole community and has cause disruption of communion among the members.  This is clearer from the second accusation which Paul brings against some of the Christians in the community.  They continued to go the prostitutes, as they used to do before they formed part of the new community in Christ Jesus.  Paul sees in it not merely a breaking of a moral behaviour, but affecting the whole sanctity and communion of the community of the believers.  Paul highlights it with the introduction of temple metaphor into the scene.  He proclaims with staunch conviction that Christian is the Temple, consecrated to God.  It is not to be applied to the individual Christian alone, but to the whole community.  Hence, if one member defiles his body through immoral act, then, he desecrates the whole community, which is the body of Christ (1Cor 6: 12-20).  Hence those who form the community should know that when they defile their body through immoral acts, they are committing sin against the whole community. He is breaking away from the communion of the community and is causing disintegration to communion.

Building up of communion through forgiveness:  In the letters of Paul to the Corinthians, we also meet with the forgiving attitude of the community members and of the Apostle himself to heal an offender and thus paves way for re-establishing communion in the community.   In the second Corinthians Paul writes of this incident, even though the offense and the offender cannot be easily identified.  We assume that Paul had made a second visit to Corinth before he wrote the Second Letter to the Corinthians.  On this visit, Paul had to leave Corinth on account of a great opposition that he had to face there.  We do not know that person who opposed Paul so vehemently and strongly and what was the exact reason to oppose and offend Paul.  There are various opinions by the scholars regarding the offender and offense. We may assume that he had a great offence against the community and its moral unity either through his heretical teaching or immoral practices such as the one mentioned in 1Cor 5:1. That means, living with one’s father’s life.  This offender might have been an influential or prominent person in the community and might have opposed Paul tooth and nail.  Offended and humiliated on account of the derision of the Gospel values, Paul thought it wise to leave Corinth in haste and abruptly.  After leaving Corinth, he wrote a stern but tearful letter to the Corinthians of the great harm that this offender was doing to the community of faith. He might have also wondered about their reluctance to react to punish him.  He sent Titus to Corinth with this letter of tears. On his return, Titus reported that the whole Corinthian community was sorrowful of what had occurred on Paul’s visit and that they had punished the offender. That the offender in turn was repentant of what he did. On hearing it, Paul wrote these lines: “But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent – not to exaggerate it – to all of you.  This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2Cor 2:5-7).  In these words of Paul, we read clearly the concept of communion among the members. The offence is not simply individual or personal, it is to whole community. It is also evident that when the member of the community is repentant, he is to be wholeheartedly and generously forgiven once for all, so that he is readmitted to the communion of the community.  The punishment is only a means for correction.  It is not for destroying the person. No one should be excluded from the communion of the community, when the person expresses sorrow for the offense that he has committed. This is to be always a great lesson for the life of communion in the community.

Fostering Communion through Sharing: Collection for the Poor

Communion in the community is to be fostered by sharing.  Paul wanted his communities share with one another they have and thus practise communion among them.  The best example is the collection for the poor/ saints in Jerusalem.  It was an important ministry that Paul had taken upon himself in his missionary journeys. Gal 2:10 gives us a clue to this Pauline ministry. Paul writes in this text: “They (the Apostles in Jerusalem) asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do”.  The context of this Pauline text is Paul’s description of his call and mission in the letter to the Galatians.  He affirms that his call as the apostle of Jesus Christ was through a special intervention of God and it was through the revelation of God’s Son in Jesus of Nazareth.  He was also entrusted with the mission of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles (Gal 1:12-15). He mentions that he had gone to Jerusalem for a short time to Jerusalem to get assured by the Apostles there about his call and mission to the Gentiles.  This was done in order that he has run in vein in the task of preaching to the Gentiles. He wanted from them their backing and support, even though his call and mission did not come from them or through them. On that occasion, Paul also pleaded with the pillars of the Church in Jerusalem on behalf of his Gentiles that they be relieved of all burdens of the Mosaic Law, including the circumcision, so that their entry into the community of believers be easy and smooth (Gal 2:1-8). (Luke narrates the same event as Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 in a different perspective).  The Apostles approved the proposal after lengthy discussions and accepted Paul’s mission to the Gentiles without imposing on them any burden of the Mosaic Law, including circumcision.  Paul is very insistent to point out that they “recognized the grace that had been given to me ( (and they) gave to Barnabas and me the right  hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (Gal 2:9).  But they placed before them one condition: “that we remember the poor, which actually what I was eager to do” (Gal 1:10).   The poor are certainly the members of the Jerusalem community, which suffered great trials and was poverty-stricken on account of Roman occupation of the land. On his part, Paul was not only eager to accept this condition, but also to do  everything possible  in view of fraternal sharing.  He had a great insight that it was the best means to express outwardly the inner communion they lived in Christ and to testify externally to all the communion that exists between the Gentile and Jewish Christians.

For the realization of this project, Paul undertook the matter to all the communities which either founded or came into contact in the Gentile world.  We have testimony of  collection for the poor in Jerusalem in four of his letters: Gal 2:10; Rom 16:1-4; 2Cor 8-9; Rom 15:25-27.31.  We have already referred to Gal 2:10.  In first Corinthians, Paul refers to the way in which he collected offerings for the poor from different communities: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia.  On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come.  And when I arrive, I will send anyone whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem.  If it seems advisable that I should go also they will accompany me” (1Cor 16:1-4).  Here we have clear instruction to collect and the way it is to be collected and then how it should be taken for distribution. Paul was very serious about this collection and knew of the abuse and misuse collection can cause in the community.  Hence he demands that the collected among is to be handed over to him alone when he visited them.  He himself will take the amount to the needy poor in Jerusalem or someone who is authorized by his letter.  If the community so desires, one of their members can accompany the one who takes the money to the poor in Jerusalem.  We read here the transparency of Paul in dealing with public money, which is to be the trade mark of anyone who collects money from the public for common purpose or who handles   public money, while they are in public office.

In the letter to the Romans, as Paul concludes it, he speaks of his immediate plans. Visiting Jerusalem occupies the first place in his agenda.  The reason is that he has to carry a collection for the poor to Jerusalem.  The communities in Macedonia and Achaia have made a collection for them and he is entrusted with the task of handing it over to them (Rom 15:25-26).  While he makes this announcement, he gives us the fundamental reason for collection for the poor. He writes almost passing in this way: “They  (Gentiles Christians of Macedonia and Achaia) were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their (Jewish Christians in Jerusalem)  spiritual blessings,  they ought also to  be of service to them in material things” (Rom 15:17).   While the Jewish Christians are blessed with spiritual gifts from the Lord, the Gentile Christians are blessed with material gifts from God. Sharing mutually their gifts with one another, they are manifesting their mutual communion and love.

In 2Corinthians there appear two chapters entirely dedicated to the issue of collection for the poor (2Cor  8-9).  Both chapters are strong and warm hearted appeal to the Corinthian community for generous contribution.  To persuade them to contribute generously to the needs of the poor, he sets before them the examples of the Christians at Achaia and Macedonia.  He also points out to them the supreme example of Jesus Christ in sharing his richness with men.  In describing the behaviour of Christians in Achaia and Macedonia, he has qualified their contribution to the poor with several qualities. They carried out this service “during a severe ordeal of affliction”, in “abundant joy”, “in extreme poverty”, with generosity, with full willingness, through their own initiative and beyond their actual means (2Cor 8:1-4).  Paul did not even request them to contribute to the poor, as he was well aware of their extreme poverty, but they came generously came forward and asked him “for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints” (“Cor. 8:4).  Paul then passes to the example of Jesus Christ  for Corinthians’ imitation: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was  rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty yo might become rich” (2Cor 8:9). Paul brings in both these examples to exhort to be generous in opening their valets to the dire needs of the poor.

We may gather from all these texts that Paul was greatly interested in the collection for the needy and poor brothers and sisters in the community.  It does not imply necessarily that he was a good fund raiser for the cause of the poor. He was not so much interested in money as such, because he never uses the Greek term for money.  But he uses rather the  terms such as service, ministry, gift, communion, and contribution. His primary interest and intention was to create among the Christians a sense communion among them, even they come from different regions and cultures. We should also point out that he wanted to establish a real and tangible communion between the community in Jerusalem and the communities in other parts of the Roman Empire, which consisted mainly of the Gentiles.  Although the official Church at Jerusalem was magnanimous towards the Gentile Christians by allowing them to enter into the community of Jesus Christ and form part of the new covenant, yet there were still radical Judaizers in Jerusalem who had not digested the official decision and accept with equal generosity. They nurtured untouchability towards the Gentile Christians, as they considered them unclean, impure, immoral and uncircumcised. Paul wanted to overcome this often hidden animosity in form of untouchability through his sincere dedication to the needs of the poor among these Jewish Christians, so as to open their inner eyes to the truth of the gospel. The contribution to the poor from the part of the generous gentile Christians will give opportunity to the Jewish Christians will understand their piety, honesty, sincerity and charity. It shall be also an occasion to the Gentiles to contribute generously and show their solidarity and communion with the needy and poor in Jerusalem community.  This was the best method for creating and fostering communion among the members of the Christian communities of different groups and origin, which we may call today the high divine politics of Paul.

Call for Communion in Christian Life

Paul advocates the life of communion in the communities, which is the backbones of the Church.  The very nature of the Christian being is the basis for this life of communion. Paul has highlighted it, whenever he spoke of the building up of the communities.  Christians’ being and becoming are closely linked to the life of communion with one another.  As we are living in an era, in which there are more, and more violence and wars in the name of religions and creeds, the Church members are called upon to cultivate communion with God and with our fellow beings all over the world.  Our is an epoch for edification of communities of communion and love among the peoples. 

All men, being social beings, live in communities, whether they are secular, family wise or religious. We cannot altogether avoid conflicts and strains in human relationships.  They can result in violence, quarrels and wars. We can either be the causes of such conflicts or can be the victims of such conflicts.  But it leads ultimately to ours and others’ destruction.  We can avoid them only when we genuinely practise the principle of forgiveness and build our community units on the basic pillars of Christian communion.  Let us be more and more that we are the children of one and the same Father, we are inserted in Jesus Christ as brothers and sisters of one another and that we form the different members of one and same body of Christ.  Every relationship of communion should be built on these foundations stones, as Paul has shown us.

Communion, which we are called to create within our communities, is a communion established at the price of reconciliation. Imperfections, even scandalous acts of the members, ought not to discourage us. Paul exhorted his readers to cultivate some positive attitudes.  They are kindness, respect, sincerity, self-control, tactfulness, a sense of humour and spirit of joyful sharing, simplicity of life, clarity and mutual trust, capacity for dialogue and sincere acceptance of a beneficial communitarian discipline.  All these are necessary attitudes even more our modern communities.

Let us conclude this reflection on communion in the communities by recalling to our attention a few of Paul’s exhortative statements to the communities: “love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honour” (Rom 12:10); “Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you “ (Rom 1%:7); “Wait for one another” (1Cor 11:33); “Through love, be servants of one another” (Gal 5:13);  “Encourage one another” (1Thess 5:11); “Forbear one another in love” (Eph 4:2); “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another” (Eph Eph 4:32); “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21) and “Let us not grow weary in well-doing, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:9-10).  These exhortative words are practical suggestions to be put into practice for a genuine building up of communion in the communities. When there are communities which advocate these inner attitudes among their members, there will be a Church of God, which mirrors the Trinitarian communion.

Author: Dr. Jacob Palliparambil OCD