Because we're people of faith, the way we solve our problems is often more significant than the solution itself. Nowhere is this better verified than in Paul's way of dealing with problems in his Corinthian community (I Cor 12: 4-11).

The second reading is the first of six consecutive passages from I Corinthians which we'll hear over the next month and a half. Paul has a unique relationship with the Corinthian church. He not only helped create it but also chose to deal with the difficulties which continually sprang up in it long after he left the area to evangelize other communities.

Because of important historical, cultural and psychological reasons (which we have no time or space to get involved in here), the inhabitants of this Greek city were prone to forming factions. They split apart and picked sides at a second's notice.

Gifts of Spirit

In Sunday's reading, their division revolves not around specific religions but in something rooted in the Christianity they professed: the different, unique gifts which the spirit gives to all who follow the risen Jesus.

Our earliest Christian ancestors believed they formed the body of Christ. Yet no one individual alone perfectly personified that body. Each had received a gift from the Spirit, which, when properly used, mirrored one part of the risen Jesus present in the community.

When joined together by love, all these gifted disciples were able to serve the needs of the risen Jesus' community in the same way the historical Jesus had served the needs of His pre-resurrection community. The first churches experienced the whole Jesus only when all their members' gifts were recognized and used.

The problem Paul faces is triggered by some in the Corinthian community who feel their gifts are the only way to represent Jesus. They disdain the spiritual gifts of others.

If we today were faced with the problem of such diversity in the midst of unity, we'd probably look for ways to tone down our differences and strive for uniformity. Paul refuses to employ this easy solution. He believes the more diverse our gifts, the better we perceive the risen Jesus, and the deeper our love becomes. Only love can mold differently gifted individuals into the body of Christ.

Instead of squelching diversity for the sake of uniformity, Paul proclaims his core belief: "To each individual the manifestation of the spirit is given for some benefit." No gift is to be downplayed. Someone in the community needs it.

If the ideal community which Third Isaiah envisions in the first reading (Is 61: 1-5) is ever to see the light of day, no one must regard themselves "forsaken" or "desolate." All must experience the joy which God experiences in them.

Wine of faith

John believes the early Christian community embodies that ideal (Jn 2: 1-11). According to the famous scholar C.H. Dodd, he narrates Sunday's well-known sign only because he's convinced that "the wine of Christianity has replaced the water of Judaism." That which Judaism had longed for, Christianity brings into existence.

Yet Paul reminds us that this ideal community doesn't come into existence by accident. People don't just declare themselves followers of Jesus, then automatically start reaping the benefits. Discipleship is a difficult, tension-filled vocation. We must first surface the gifts the Spirit has given us for the community's benefit, then diligently and honestly surface the gifts of others. Because our needs are diverse, our gifts are diverse.

Due to our passion for uniformity. There might be some Christians who have yet to taste the "good wine."

(01-11-01)