Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
(I Corinthians 4:1-5)
The Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter once observed that one servant is worth a thousand gadgets. Blackberries, I-Pods, and electric massagers may enhance satisfaction, but they hardly replace a loyal, competent servant. In the reading from I Corinthians today, Paul shares some insights into the Lord’s service.
The “us” to whom Paul refers as Christ’s servants is not meant to be all Christians, but those like himself who minister to the community. In Paul’s mind ministers directly serve Christ, not the people. This means that they take orders from the Lord and not from the faithful among whom they work. Of course, by not subjecting himself or herself to human authority, the minister risks becoming arrogant and autocratic. Paul, however, finds a safeguard in the criterion of trustworthiness. A true servant of Christ will prove himself or herself faultless in conduct and reliable in the execution of duty.
When servants of Christ fail the test – be it through extramarital sex, misappropriation of funds, or child abuse -- they give scandal to church members and, indeed, the world. They also will incur a stricter judgment than others from Christ when he comes in glory. In the passage today Paul seems to imply (but he can hardly mean) that the faithful are to look the other way when they see serious wrong-doing by their ministers. However, he certainly does intend that church members refrain from groundless criticism regarding Christ's servants.