Living in a Passing World
January 22, 2012
Fr. George Smiga
1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
In this short and pithy selection from his first letter to the Corinthians Paul first says, “The time is running out.” He then gives a number of directions that are hard to understand. He tells us that those having wives should live as if they don’t, those weeping as if they are not weeping, those rejoicing as if they are not rejoicing. What is Paul talking about? When I was a deacon in Akron one of my first homilies was on this passage. I did my best to try to make sense of it. I spent a good deal of time emphasizing the phrase, “those who have wives should act as if they don’t.” After the mass a woman came up to me and said, “That’s my husband’s favorite passage of scripture. He hardly pays any attention to me at all.”
Paul is really not giving us advice about marriage, and he certainly does not intend that husbands ignore their wives. He is trying to say something much more fundamental. His point becomes clear in the last line of the reading. “The present form of the world is passing away.” Now, such a statement was good news for the early church. It was not good news because they thought the present form of the world was bad. It was good news because they understood that the present world was going to be replaced with something much better. It was going to be replaced with the Kingdom of God.
What is the Kingdom of God? It is God’s re-creation of the world in such a way that every evil is destroyed and God’s will is perfectly done. The early church believed that when Jesus returned in glory he would establish the Kingdom and God would be All in All. This is why Paul gives the directions he does in this section of 1st Corinthians. He says, “Yes, you have to go on living: marrying, weeping, rejoicing, buying, doing all of those things. But you need to do them with a certain reserve, with a certain detachment because something that is much better is about to appear. So do not become too invested in what you are experiencing now, God’s Kingdom is soon to come.”
Now, of course, the early church believed that the Kingdom would come soon. Paul believed it would happen in his lifetime. It is 2000 years later and we are still waiting. You and I do not live with the expectation that the Kingdom will come tomorrow. But we still believe it will come. Look at our memorial acclamation at mass, “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection, until you come again.” The timetable of the early church was off, but the promise is secure. This is what makes the second reading from today’s mass important to us. It reminds us that as believers in Christ we live in the expectation of something better, of something greater that God will bring about in our world.
This gives us an advantage over those who do not have faith. Without faith life is what it is. If you are lucky, your life is successful. If you are unlucky, your life is a failure. You do your best and then you die, and that’s it. But for people of faith, no matter what we are experiencing now—good or ill—all is going to be overcome by the approaching Kingdom of God. We are called, then, according to the words of Paul to live our lives with a certain reserve, with a certain detachment, knowing that the Kingdom of God is coming and we are called to participate in it.
If we accept this perspective it allows us to lessen our pain and deepen our joy. All of us experience pain and trouble in our lives from sickness, rejection, death. Such struggles with evil are real. But for people of faith, no matter how evil touches our lives today, we know that a day will come when every tear will be wiped away and our pain will be erased in the glory of Christ’s victory. This perspective also deepens our joy. Even as we live with bounty and success we, as people of faith, still know that something better is yet to come. Our deepest blessings are only a hint, only a shadow, of what God will give us in the coming of the Kingdom.
Therefore, although the words of Paul seem strange to us, he is calling us to live the present in light of the future, a glorious future which comes from God. We as believers always know that we are moving toward something better. All the good we experience is only a shadow of the Kingdom of God that has been promised to us. This is our faith. This is the good news. Let us embrace it. Come, Lord Jesus!