Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Good Conduct, Good Deeds, Good Works (part 11)

If asking the members of the churches to function together as a unified body independent of honor and shame constructs and always considering the body of the community and its overall health as the visual representation of the covenant God’s ruling kingdom, cannot be (based on what has been learned to this point) thoughtfully summarized as “be harmonious, sympathetic, affectionate, compassionate, and humble,” then one simply lacks the power of deductive reasoning. 

Truly, this language echoes Paul’s Rome-directed call “not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3), as he goes on to use metaphorical terms in relation to the functioning of the body of the Christ, grounded in the operation of self-sacrificial love.  Maintaining that train of thought then, the metaphorical treatment in Romans possesses great similarity to that which is to be found in the first Corinthian letter, and can direct an approach to Peter. 

Harmony, sympathy, affection, compassion, and humility are the clarion calls of the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians, and contrary to any and all thinking about the subject, the concept of love therein expressed is (colored by the cross) what is demanded by one’s confession of Jesus as Lord, especially given the competition for honor and shame that provides the social context in which the words are first heard. 

Across the letters, what should be noted is that preference and humility are the demands of the example of the Christ; and to what might strike most observers as an unusually high degree of repetition, the call for humility and consideration of others in the light of the cross is consistently and almost exclusively framed by references to the meal table.  This is more obvious in the letters to Rome and Corinth, and especially the latter, as the dissertation of chapters twelve through fourteen, which outline the way that the church is to behave (not in cultivation of a private spirituality or a quest for personal holiness but as the witness of a vibrant, present, and demanding kingdom), has for its foundation Paul’s treatment of the Lord’s Supper (that which, for all practical purposes, came to be the church’s representation of the messianic banquet, filtered through the prevailing sense of Greco-Roman banqueting practice, and therefore, it’s declaration that Jesus is Lord and ruler of all creation).

The next verse in this letter, after extolling Christian love, evokes the Jesus tradition in play in that day, giving a pre-written-Gospel composition voice to that which will be a cornerstone of Jesus’ truly revolutionary notions of how it is that the Creator God’s rule will come to earth.  When Peter insists that this church “not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing” (3:9), he speaks to a group of people that were very much in line to experience evil and insults, as they refused to participate in the emperor cult or the public religion.  Naturally, this calls to mind that which would come to be codified in the Gospels, which would be “Do not resist the evildoer.  But whoever strike you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well” (Matthew 5:39). 

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