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Fr Lar O' Connor


St Paul saw the world before Christ as dominated by the power of Sin, the false value system that influences everybody and leads people to actually sin. Where the power of Sin is active you might say that Sin was incarnate and part of human nature. When Jesus came he confronted the false value system of the world and led the author of the Letter to the Hebrews to conclude that he was without sin. “For the high priest we have is not incapable of feeling  our weaknesses with us, but has been put to the test in exactly the same way as ourselves, apart from sin.” (Heb. 4:15-16) Christ was put to the test and even tempted to be a sinner, but never had any collusion with sin. St Paul also affirms that he was without sin.  “Him who knew no sin, he made him to be sin for us, in order that by him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) This is a difficult verse to explain. Some suggest that God made Jesus an atonement sacrifice for sin. It may be better to see Christ as the representative of sinful mankind, with the same inclinations to sin as the rest of us and giving himself in favour of us, so that we would make our own the righteousness of God.

            Jesus was the incarnation of what it means to be a good human person. He was goodness become flesh. He was a model for all of us. After his death and resurrection he was no longer there for us. So the question arises as to how the values and lifestyle of Jesus would be passed on. St Paul’s answer was that it would happen by substitution. It is by becoming “other Christs” that his ministry can continue in the world. All Christians by baptism are called to be “other Christs” and reflect the qualities and characteristics of Christ in their own lives. That call is even clearer and more urgent for those who carry the charism of ministry in the church.

            Jesus chose apostles to continue his ministry in the world. An apostle was sent, not just to represent the sender but to re-present him. In other words apostles actually carry the presence of Christ in their own lives. In a real sense they are “Other Christs”. All of us belong to an apostolic church.

Becoming an “Other Christ”

            It is St. Paul, above all who highlights this basic theme of ministry. He has a key text in 2 Corinthians. It can help to quote the whole text. “But we hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is God’s, and not our own. We are subjected to every kind of hardship, but never distressed; we see no way out, but never despair; we are pursued but never cut off; knocked down, but still have some life in us; always we carry within us, in our body, the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus , too, may be visible in our body. Indeed while we are still alive, we are continually being handed over to death, for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our mortal flesh. In us, then, death is at work; in you, life.” (2 Cor. 4:7-11)

            Paul emphasises that the power in ministry belongs to God, but we are instruments through whom God’s power touches people. God is the source of grace. We are channels of grace. Through us the manifestation of God’s goodness reaches people. He indicates clearly that our ministry may be a struggle. We may appear to fail, but we come back to offer more. The image behind the description is that of a poor wrestler trying to contend with another wrestler, naked and laced with olive oil to make grips difficult, struggling on a bed of sand, falling and recovering a number of times and eventually appearing like an earthen vessel or a pot of earthenware, in his sanded body, looking more like a statue than a human being.

            Paul, in his own experience of suffering, carries in his body “the death of Jesus” so that the life of Jesus may also be visible in his body. His focus is on Jesus during his earthly life. He emphasises its importance by repeating it in the following verse. “Indeed while we are still alive, we are continually being handed over to death, for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus too may be visible in our mortal flesh.” “The life of Jesus” is the authentic and genuine human life of Jesus that Paul reflects in his own life. We do not have to suffer physically as Paul did, but every time we go out of our way for Christ and his ministry we experience death to self which in turn enables us to manifest the qualities and values of Jesus to the world of our time. In this way we are other Christs. If our resemblance to Christ is strong enough there is the real possibility that our lifestyle will influence others. There is much more to ministry than preached words.

Community Ministry

            For St. Paul, what is true for individuals in ministry is also true for the Christian community. He commends the Thessalonians for the impact and influence they had on local provinces. “And you observed the sort of life we lived when we were with you, which was for your sake. You took us and the Lord as your model, welcoming the word with the joy of the Holy Spirit in spite of great hardships. And so you became an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia, since it was from you that the word of the Lord rang out --- and not only throughout Macedonia and Achaia, for your faith in God has spread everywhere.” (I Thess. 1:5-8)

            The Thessalonians took both Paul and Christ as their model. They became an example themselves and made an impact through the proclamation of the word and also by their faith lifestyle. In most of his letters Paul notes and emphasises that he imitates Christ, The clearest example is in I Corinthians. “Take me as your pattern as I take Christ for mine.” (1 Cor. 11:1) Imitation implies sense knowledge. People must have seen Paul to be guided by him as a model. He never mentions “imitation” in Romans and Colossians because he had never been there.

      The importance of community influence is also highlighted in the letter to the Philippians, ”Let your behaviour be free of murmuring and complaining, so that you remain faultless and pure, unspoilt children of God, surrounded by a deceitful and underhand brood, shining out among them like bright stars in the world, proffering to it the Word of life.” (Phil. 2:14-15). Christians are bright lights in a dark sinful world by holding forth to it and observing the word that guides to authentic life.



The Qualities of Jesus

            St Paul draws attention to the qualities of Christ in a number of texts. He highlights the gentleness or meekness of Jesus . “I urge you by the gentleness and forbearance of Jesus.” (2 Cor.10:1). Paul portrays the gentleness and forbearance of Jesus in the way he addresses his audience. We find something similar in Philippians. “For God will testify for me how much I long for you with the warm longing (affection, tenderness) of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:9) Here, he again reflects a quality of Jesus in his own living. He also encourages his readers to take account of the steadfastness or perseverance of Christ. “May the Lord turn your hearts towards the love of God and the perseverance of Christ. (2 Thess. 3:5)

            Christ had all the qualities of the perfect human person. His self-giving love was at the centre of his genuine personality. St. Paul constantly reminds us of the love of Jesus for us. In Galatians it is especially clear. “The life that I am now living, subject to the limitations of human nature, I am living in faith, faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20).  Paul is even stronger in Romans, “For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom.. 8:38-39). Christ’s horrible death by crucifixion is the measure of God’s love for us.

            Love is the essential dynamism of human life. If we continue to be loving people we will achieve authentic existence. St Paul makes it very clear that without love we are nothing. “Though I command languages, both human and angelic – If I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. And though I have the power to prophecy, to penetrate all mysteries and knowledge, and though I have all the faith necessary to move mountains --- if I am without love, I am nothing. Though I should give away to the poor all that I possess, and give up my body to be burned --- if I am without love, it will do me no good whatever.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3). If ministry is our call, then love, in imitation of Jesus, is the heart and engine of our ministry.


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