Saturday, February 8, 2014

Corinth's Communion (part 25)

At the same time, one should not hear these words about love first as that which is to be achieved as an individual.  Rather, they are first to be heard within the context of the community that is to be defined by love.  As they are heard and understood communally, especially in relation to the kingdom of the Creator God, they are then put in practice on an individual basis by those who desire to participate in this community.  
When Paul writes about love being patient and kind in this letter, the reader knows that patience and kindness were not being exercised towards all in this church in a uniform way, but based on constructs of honor and shame.  Thus when Paul tells them that love does not brag, is not puffed up, is not rude, self serving, easily angered or resentful, it is possible to confidently assert that there was a great deal of bragging, puffery, rudeness, self-service, anger, and resentment at work in this church.  This was presumably being put on display through direct actions, while the separating and dividing actions that were part and parcel of the meals and therefore the life of the church were probably engendering anger and resentment from those on the receiving end of the hurtful and deleterious behavior that truly had no place amongst those called to represent the kingdom of heaven come to earth. 

In a similar vein, Paul insists that love “is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth” (13:6).  While this phrase, as others, can certainly make an independent stand, and it can be agreed upon that it is inappropriate to be glad about injustice while also concurring that the truth is something in which all should rejoice, this, like everything else in this letter (and in the whole of the collected works of Scripture), demands to be first understood within its editorial context before pulling it out as an isolated aphorism by which to construct dogma and make dogmatic assertions. 

If Paul is instructing this group of people that love is not glad about injustice, then it can be presumed that there was a certain gladness about injustice being exercised by this congregation.  It is probably not the case that Paul is here thinking about injustices being perpetrated outside the church (though that can be a proper extension once one rightly consider this statement in context and learns what it means for the church as a body), but rather that the injustice that is being perpetrated inside the church.  This would occur as the rampant injustices of the world outside the church infiltrates that which is to function as the living, breathing, present body of the Christ. 

Considering the fact that Paul would not mention it if it was not an issue, those injustices were likely being found on display at the church meal that is supposed to be evocative of the Passover and its liberation of the people of the Creator God, of the messianic banquet and the liberating rule of that God in the world, and especially at the Lord’s Supper portion of the meal that was to serve as the very explicit reminder that the rule of the Creator God of Israel is currently taking place through the Lordship of Jesus.  It was to be understood, with that understanding displayed by the way that believers treated each other, that those that come to the Lord’s Supper to take the bread and the cup, are agreeing to submit to that Lordship and to participate in the advance of that kingdom. 

That kingdom has as its mission statement (though these would have been circulating in oral form at the time of the writing of the letter to Corinth) words such as “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19), along with words like “For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I was naked and you gave Me clothing, I was sick and you took care of Me, I was in prison and you visited Me…  I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of Mine, you did it for Me” (Matthew 25:35-36,40b). 

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