“Although I am free in regard to all, I have
made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible….
To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.”
(from 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23)
Pondering the Word
“I have become all things to all to save at least some.”
Oh, Paul, here we go again!
As he writes in several of his letters, his only boast is that of
the gospel, but at times, I find that boasting a bit over the top.
When we read St. Paul’s letters, it’s important to balance his “big”
talk with all the instances when he calls to light his imperfections
and weaknesses. I think of Paul as someone who has reformed (which
of course, he has). Those who find the strength to overcome a
harmful addiction or develop a healthy habit are often the most
vocal spokespersons for their particular life change. That’s exactly
what Paul does. He has come to know Christ and now there’s no
But he takes it one step further. In marketing terms, Paul “knows
his audience.” He says “To Jews, I became like a Jew to win over
the Jews; to ones outside the law, I became as one outside the law;
to the weak I became weak…” It’s not that Paul is disingenuous or
inconsistent with the message of the gospel. He just recognizes the
different mindsets and attitudes of those to whom he preaches. He is
in effect able to speak their language, and in doing so, is better
able to teach and defend the gospel and share his faith in Christ.
Living the Word…
I attended a retreat not long ago with the author and social justice
advocate, Edwina Gately. She told a story about her first experience
as a missionary in Africa. I love how she described it; to
paraphrase, she said: ‘I was all ready to leave England and take my
God with me to Africa. Imagine my surprise when I arrived, that I
found God already there.’
Over the centuries, missionaries have been guilty of imposing
Western images and practices on indigenous peoples and destroying
cultures, rather than finding the essential truths we hold in
common. Even today, missionaries and people who work in social
justice settings can fail to recognize God already present and
active in those they serve. As Pope Francis tells us, we draw people
to Christ, not by proselytizing, but by “attraction.” This goes for
people of other faiths and traditions, those we serve, even our kids
and family members. Do we need to be like St. Paul, all things to
all people? No, but by being ourselves and welcoming others with joy
and understanding, we may just be able to demonstrate the love of
Jesus, who is, by the way, Paul, the only one who can save them!