Summary: St Paul shares the reason serious Christians are most careful to avoid sex with anyone other than his spouse, why sexual sin is always serious: it’s a sin against our very selves.
The overarching theme of today’s sacred scripture is the call of God to the individual, or what we call the “universal call to holiness.” Saint John Paul wrote in 1988: “We come to a full sense of the dignity of the lay faithful if we consider the prime and fundamental vocation that the Father assigns to each of them in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit: the vocation to holiness, that is, the perfection of charity. Holiness is the greatest testimony of the dignity conferred on a disciple of Christ.” All of us are called to be saints, with or without a capital S.
We begin with a very old story about the prophet Samuel, who lived as a transitional leader around a thousand years before Christ. His birth was pretty miraculous, because his mother, Hannah, was considered infertile until she prayed fervently in the Hebrew place of worship. She promised if she had a child, the child would be dedicated to God, and Samuel was the child.
The story we hear today is of Samuel’s call. The first verse is very wistful. “The lamp of God had not yet gone out.” Samuel’s rule as a judge in Israel was at a very bad time for the Israelites. There was no king, no overall defensive plan for the tribes, and the Philistines on the Palestine coast were constantly troublesome. In fact, very soon the Israelites would foolishly risk the Ark of the Covenant, the most precious item in their tabernacle, and lose it in battle. Then the lamp of God would be extinguished until it was recovered a few years later. Samuel had not heard the voice of God, but here at night, when all was quiet and only that lamp gave light, God’s voice called him by name. Twice he mistook it for the high priest’s voice, and twice the priest sent him back to bed. But even a dotty old guy will respond to God after three times, and on the fourth call, Samuel says what we should all say to God’s call, “Speak, for thy servant hears.”
Because Samuel learned to listen, as he grew in his leadership, God let none of his words fall to the ground. When he spoke for God, the people listened.
In a real sense, Samuel’s response to God simply continues the tradition set by Moses, Joshua and most of the judges. Psalm 40 captures in song this tradition. “To do Thy will, O God, is my delight.” God called, and they listened, and did His will, easy or difficult thought it might be. It is a tradition and a habit that all the holy ones of Israel followed for the next thousand years. We’ve heard for a couple of months how John the Baptist followed it.
Now for the next several months, we’ll hear how Jesus, in His divine-human nature, followed the call of the Father. Today’s Gospel, from St. John, picks up on John the Baptist’s definition of Jesus the Messiah. He is the “Lamb of God.” The allusion to the Passover lamb is unmistakable. Jesus is the true Lamb, who will be sacrificed three Passovers into His ministry to really take away the sins of anyone who repents and follows Him. Two of John’s disciples ask “where are you staying?” and Jesus calls them: “come and see.” The words “where are you staying?” translated into modern speech, could be “where are you at?” or “what’s up with you?” Jesus shows them, and then one of them, Andrew, calls his brother Simon, clearly calling Jesus the Messiah. Then Jesus changes Simon’s name to “Cephas,” which is Aramaic for “leader.” God calls and the disciples answer, “I am here; I come to do God’s will.”
What does that have to do with St. Paul’s instruction to the church at Corinth? Well, we need to remember where Corinth was. In the time of Paul, Corinth was a busy Roman trading city on the isthmus of Corinth between the Ionian Sea and the Aegean Sea. And it could have had the motto “whatever happens in Corinth remains in Corinth.” The Christian church there was very young and its members didn’t shake their bad old pagan, libertine habits very easily.
Today’s Mass readings are excerpts, but we’ll look at the whole passage in chapter 6 of Paul’s first letter. These are inexperienced Christians with lots of bad habits. Paul’s taught them that if they want to live in Christ, they must substitute virtues for their vices, and we can read those bad habits right here: Immorality is any sexual conduct outside a natural marriage. So it refers to self-abuse, fornication, incest, homosexual acts–all of that. At Corinth and other places, idolatry was tied up with temple prostitution. Adulterers are those who commit sexual sins with people they aren’t married to. Sexual perverts would be sodomites. So lots of sexual sins, and then the rest of the commandments that show no love for neighbor. Paul tells them: some of you were like that. The implication is: stop it!