Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Corinth's Communion (part 22)

Picking up at the seventh verse of the chapter: “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:7).  Note the “all.”  “For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of the knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit” (12:8-9).  Noting the “all” of the seventh verse, attention is again called to the use of “same” and “one” that is repeatedly on offer to this apparently factionalized and segregated church.  Continuing, Paul writes “to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues” (12:10). This short soliloquy is capped with “It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things” (12:11). 

Lest there be any confusion, the stress of the final statement, based on the movement of the entire letter, does not fall upon the “each person,” but rather, upon the “one” and “same,” as the subject matter is the spiritual gifts (and therefore presumably the “one and the same Spirit” that provides said gifts).  With that in mind, one can continue a quest towards concreteness and illumination, having so much of the socially-identifying-meal-practice-shaped analysis reinforced when reading “For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body---though many---are one body, so too is Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.  Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.  For in fact the body is not a single member, but many.  If the foot says, ‘Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,’ it does not lose its membership in the body because of that.  And if the ear says, ‘Since I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it does not lose its membership in the body because of that” (12:12-16).  By noting the use of “whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free,” which would have been common and recognized points of division and reasons for honor or shame, does one not hear the stinging criticism being leveled through these words? 

Continuing then, “If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing?  If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell?  But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as He decided.  If they were all the same member, where would the body be?  So now there are many members, but one body” (12:17-20).  If these suppositions are correct, one can only envision the dramatic pause that may very well have taken place after this portion of the reading.  It takes very little effort at this point to imagine that the person who was reading this letter to the congregation, whether it was a member of the church or an emissary of Paul, had been instructed by the Apostle to read these particular words and then stop, and then to scan the room and meet the eyes of each and every person in an effort to make a dramatic point concerning the “oneness” of the body of Christ and this congregations failures.

Having done that, the reader, also knowing full well the divisions and separations that were at work in this church, whether socially constructed or based upon constructs rooted in opinions concerning a hierarchy of spiritual gifts, would continue with “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ not in turn can the head say to the foot, ‘I do not need you.’  On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our un-presentable members are clothed with dignity, but our presentable members do not need this” (12:21-24a).  With this, one would have to agree that the honor and shame notions presented in this study are completely inescapable, practically clinching the argument here being made. 

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