Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Corinth's Communion (part 21)

Paul’s focus on “the body” as the body of believers is drawn out quite explicitly in chapter twelve of the letter, as he delves into the area of “spiritual gifts.”  Now again, just because the letter has crossed into a new chapter, that is not a signal that Paul is beginning a new sequence of thoughts.  As has been stated, this is a single letter and it has a unifying structure that cuts across all later divisions into chapters (12th century) and verse (16th century). 

This issue of the activities of “the body” seems to be a substantial component of that unifying structure, but this cannot be understood apart from conceptions concerning what is meant by the coming of the kingdom of heaven, ancient meal practice, the messianic banquet, the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ meal activities and teachings, contemporary cultural and social forces, and the uniqueness of what could be observed by bodies of Christians that were modeling out the peculiarly appropriate, revolutionary, and rather subversive ethics that were serving to turn the world upside down (as suggested in the book of Acts) in so many ways. 

In the fourth verse of chapter twelve, Paul writes: “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit.  And there are different ministries, but the same Lord.  And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone” (12:4-6).  Where it appears that the participants in this church body want to point out individual spiritual achievements and capabilities, Paul repeatedly drags them back to “sameness.”  Where what are looked upon as “spiritual gifts” were apparently being used as a force to drag people apart, to separate, to divide, to structure, to create factions, to gain honor, and to stratify the church much like would be found within the culture at large, Paul stresses “sameness” amongst all people (contrary to the prevailing culture) so as to urge unity and equality amongst believers. 

Can it be the case that not only had the standard social divides crept back into this church and been put on display at their meals, but had a substratum of divides developed that was serving to provide further classifications, perhaps among those that occupied the lower end of the all-important and determinative honor and shame scale?  It would not be wise to be dogmatic when considering an answer to such a question, but certainly the question is one that might legitimately color our thoughts. 

Because it seems rather obvious that this church was in the unfortunate habit of employing standard social structuring at its Lord’s Supper meal that was supposed to but now failing to be reflective of the messianic banquet, with conceptions of honor and shame visible and at work, it would not be difficult to imagine that those on the lower end of the honor and shame spectrum---perhaps those excluded from meals or the symposium altogether, or those that were allowed to participate but not allowed to recline at the table because their honor status, for whatever reason, was insufficient---had taken it upon themselves to employ their own stratifying system. 

In this, it is possible that further delineations were made among the “shameful” (less honorable) group, with these delineations based upon perceptions of spiritual gifting, thus creating their own honor and shame hierarchy.  If this was taking place among those of lower socio-economic status, it is not at all difficult to imagine such constructs being adopted and practiced by those of higher socio-economic status (as this would be ingrained in them from birth), and therefore becoming rather pervasive.  

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