For the rest of the year we will be hearing from Luke, who has a particular set of emphases, that the outsider is included in the work of God, that the poor and oppressed are of particular concern in God’s eyes. This is not the only set of emphases set forth in the New Testament. Matthew shares many of them. Matthew also adds a concern for how the new revelation of Jesus fits with the old traditions of Judaism. Mark, on the other hand, is intensely focused on the cross, whereas John is swept away by the vision of God’s glory. Hebrews describes Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, the bonds of connection between God and people, and in Revelation, Jesus is the Lamb who brings the great overturning of the world toward life.
Different perspectives, different ways to describing the one truth.
Now, Luke’s prospective on the truth of Jesus Christ plays well with the people of Nazareth, in the beginning, at least. We’ll talk about that more next week. It also played well in other parts of the Roman Empire, for example, in Corinth, the place to which Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, which we read today. Would have played well because I think people were tired of the relentless pressure of figuring out who is the most important, who is the most prestigious. Slaves and peasants would have been really tired of it. Wealthy and prominent people too, though. Exhausted with this mind-numbing game of who’s the most important. People wanted to just be human.
Corinth could not have been any more different from Nazareth. Nazareth was a small agricultural village, in a backwater part of a backwater province, Galilee. Corinth was the capital of the province of Achaea, in Greece, the cradle of the Roman civilization. It was a crossroads between people coming from Turkey and Asia and even India on their way to Alexandria in Egypt, Rome in Italy, Athens. There was a lot of money in Corinth. A lot of different religions too. There was a temple to Apollo, the Greek sun-god, and Aphrodite, the goddess of love. There would have been groups that worshiped Egyptian gods, Zoroastrians, followers of various mystery religions, folks who participated in secret rituals in cellars and caves. Nazareth was pretty much Jewish. A few different kinds of Jewish, but Jewish.
One other common thing between these two very different cities was the way people attended a banquet or dinner. In the Roman world, when people were invited to a dinner, the wealthy and important people would come first. The slaves and peasants, if they were even invited, would come later. The wealthy and important folks would get the best food, the steak and lobster. The peasants and slaves might get a grilled cheese sandwich. Nobody was trying to be man, particularly. That was just the way things were done.
But Paul sees this. Paul says, “You know people may do it that way in the world around us, everybody else might be doing it that way. But at communion, in the church, it’s dangerous. In Paul’s day, Holy Communion was an actual meal. Some folks in the church at Corinth were bringing their steak and lobster, and very best wine to the meal and getting drunk and eating it all, so that the peasants and laborers and slaves that came later, might not get anything. This is at communion.
So in the chapter before our second lesson for today, Paul writes this passage that makes a lot of people really nervous. He says that if anyone eats and bread and drinks the wine of communion without discerning or recognizing the Body of Christ in it, he or she eats and drinks judgment upon themselves. A lot of us have thought that this meant we had to understand our theology of communion before taking communion. We had to understand that we believe Jesus is in the bread and wine, that Jesus comes into our bodies, our brains and blood and hands. That Jesus is a part of the physical world. That Jesus honors and blesses our bodies by becoming part of us.
So we teach children our theology of communion when they are getting ready to take communion for the first time. I think that’s a good thing to do. But I don’t think that the theology of communion is Paul’s main concern in the passage in First Corinthians eleven. I think Paul is not talking about theology as much as he is about community. People are coming to church, bringing their own food, getting drunk, eating it all, and others are coming to church and getting nothing.
This is not right,” says Paul. “You are a body, a community. You are family, brothers and sisters, members of the body of Christ. Does the hand say to the foot, I won’t have anything to do with you? Does the foot say to the eye, “I will ignore you?” No. The church is Christ’s body.
And indeed, people get their visceral, gut-level experience of Jesus from how we behave, from looking at us.
Nowadays we all have communion together. We eat the same bread and wine. But you know, out there in the world, it is possible to construct our own designer universe. We can visit websites, watch TV shows, read books, even listen to the news that is set up for our own social class, our own amount of formal education, gender, age, everything. If we want, we can hear only things that we agree with.
That might be the way it is done out there in the world, where people need to keep your attention at any cost so that you will watch their toothpaste commercial, which is where they get their money. But in the church, it’s dangerous. We are different from each other. Some of us are hands, some, feet, some eyes. Some of us grew up in the bluegrass of Kentucky, some in the hills. I grew up on the coast of Mississippi, some of us grew up in the Midwest, some, right here in Louisville. Some of us have had long years of formal education. Some of us have had long years in the school of hard knocks. We will see things differently. That is good.
We are one body. Different people, different perspectives, one truth. We need each other. No one perspective will show Jesus in anywhere near the wonder and mystery which he is.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Luther, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic. This perspective, that perspective. All of them one baptism, one faith, one Spirit.