We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day. (From the Daily Office Readings, Mar. 5, 2012, 1 Corinthians 4:10-12)
In this bit from his First Letter to the Church in Corinth, St. Paul nails the Corinthians with sarcasm. Apparently they had been bickering among themselves about who was the most spiritually advanced and some had even boasted that they had grown beyond their teachers, Paul and Apollos. So Paul sardonically congratulates them that they have already achieved every spiritual goal and climbed every spiritual mountain. Paul cynically suggests that he wishes to ride their coattails into glory without the painful cost of obedience that mere mortals must pay. I admire Paul’s willingness to be confrontational with this congregation, but I often find myself unable to do so in my own ministry setting – and I would suspect that I am not alone among clergy. Influenced as we are by our society’s consumer mentality it is all too easy to analyze and evaluate our ministries according to some standard of marketability, but a priest must never forget that popularity with a parish is not proof God’s favor and blessing; clergy are accountable to God not to some corporate-culture inspired performance evaluation. We must struggle not to substitute human approval for obedience to God. In the end, this is true of everyone, not just of clergy. During these weeks in which we are invited “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance,” it is well to ask who it is we are trying to please, the world around us or God?