Read I Corinthians 9:16-23
I found myself in a real fix one day. Or should I say, one very early morning. I had decided to drive from Timmins to Ottawa at night, a distance of close to 800 kilometers. At around four in the morning, on the road between Temiskaming and North Bay, I ran out of gas. Those who are familiar with that stretch of highway know that it wanders through about one hundred kilometers of uninhabited forest. I waited nearly an hour before a car passed by. Luckily, the driver had mercy on me and picked me up. We found an isolated gas bar some thirty kilometers later where I picked up a few gallons of gas. My good Samaritan offered to drive me back to my car, which I gladly accepted. In return, I paid to fill up his own gas tank.
Wasn’t it normal that I should respond to this man’s charity? The gas I paid for him was little compared to the service he had rendered me, to the time he had sacrificed. I’m sure he didn’t want to dawdle so on his way to Toronto. Courtesy required that I pay back a bit of the favour he had done for me. I have no glory to claim for my act. In telling the story, he is the hero, not me.
This is also Saint Paul’s attitude in the verses that are proposed for this Sunday’s second reading, as he explains to the Corinthians how he understands his mission as an apostle. He has no glory to claim for this mission. He is not the hero of his story. To the contrary, all glory should be given to the Lord who delivered Paul from darkness and made him enter into his wonderful light. For Paul, his ministry is not a favour he is doing for God: it is an obligation laid upon him because of the great generosity God has shown him.
Paul goes even further. As an expression of gratitude, Paul tries to do without any help from those he is evangelizing. Not that he doesn’t have the right to it. But in this case, Paul would rather work with his hands to gain a salary, so as to remain free in his relationship with the Corinthians.
This allows him to come among the Corinthians as a friend rather than as an employee. He comes to share their lives, to participate in their community. This sharing in a life of friendship will be the privileged way for him to spread God’s Word. This he does for the good of the Corinthians themselves. He has already received the only reward he seeks – salvation in Christ – and he has received it not as a reward but as a gift.
Thus is it still today for those who know the love of God. Whatever we do that is right or beautiful, whatever services we render, whatever acts of compassion we make, these are but a response to the extraordinary generosity that has already been shown to us. Christian life is never a search for reward, but the heart’s response to a love that has been given freely.