Thursday, February 6, 2014

Corinth's Communion (part 23)

Then, with the honor and shame constructs in mind, and with a profound reflection upon the Jesus tradition as he well understood it, Paul adds: “Instead, God has blended together the body” (1 Corinthians 12:24b)--- noting the flattening out and removal of the kingdom-of-God-obstructing divisions within the congregation and going on to read “giving greater honor to the lesser member” (12:24c).  This would certainly call to mind the portion of the shared Jesus tradition that would eventually come to be well-communicated by Luke, who reports Jesus as having said, in conjunction with the parable of the great banquet, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (14:11). 

There, it is worthwhile to reflect on the fact that Luke’s precise construction has Jesus saying such things in the wake of His insistence concerning the kingdom of the Creator God (in the context of Jesus’ talk that reflects His understanding of the messianic banquet), that “some are last who will be first, and some who are first will be last” (13:30).  All of this, for Paul, is reflected in his own insistence “that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another” (12:25).  To that he adds “If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it.  If a member is honored, all rejoice with it” (12:26).  

Capping off his dissertation concerning the body that simply must be carefully regarded along with the eating and drinking, Paul goes on to write “Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it” (12:27).  He has made clear his point that the distinctions being set forth by the church in Corinth, which were so unfortunately on display when they gathered together for the meal that they were erroneously referring to as the Lord’s Supper, were all artificial and counter to what Jesus intended because of the divisions and apparent spiritual honor competition.  As has been said, this was a source of some distress for Paul, as it served to undermine the unifying, gathering message of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord of all), as amply pronounced through Jesus’ life and words. 

However, Paul does go on to point out that there are actually going to be some types of divisions in the church, writing that “God has placed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, gifts of healing, helps, gifts of leadership, different kinds of tongues” (12:28).  While he does this, he does it while having already told them that “It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as He decides to each person” (12:11a), while also having made it very clear what he thinks about putting divisions and hierarchies on display at their corporate meals in a way that allows honor to be accrued by one member at the expense of another (honor being a limited good).  So the last thing that he would expect them to do is to take this list of what “God has placed in the church,” and use it to create a spiritual hierarchy that will then be reflected in their table fellowship, so that their gathering looks no different from any other meal gathering of the time.  This will only create a competition for status based on a new set of honor securing instruments---spiritual gifts---that will be used to create the same types of unhelpful social and cultural divisions of which the church of Christ is to have no part. 

If read properly, keeping in mind the sense of narrative and structure that Paul has labored hard to develop, these questions will be heard in light of Paul’s insistence that all of the members of the body (as he speaks to this particular stratifying and dividing church) are equally valuable, with a reminder that “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” (12:22-23).  The questions are also heard according to the statement that “God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another” (12:24b-25). 

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