23 December 2010

pay attention to the body

“All who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” Our Keukabiblia Bible study is moving to chapters 10 and 11 of 1 Corinthians. Paul’s warning about failure to discern the body appears in verse 29 of the latter chapter. This is part of his critique of the Corinthian church and their observance of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist—or rather, the lack thereof.

The apostle begins this section in verse 17 with the rather diplomatic statement, “I do not commend you.” It seems that the divisions of rich and poor have not only been maintained among these followers of Christ, but they’ve found expression at the very heart of worship. He speaks of the agape or love feast, which was joined with the Eucharist, in which “each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk” (v. 21). His outrage boils over in the next verse: “What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”

This failure of love—this failure of generosity—is due to the aforementioned failure to discern the body, to recognize the body of Christ. Consequently, Paul’s verdict is that “many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (v. 30).

What’s going on here? Verse 28 says, “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Is this failure in discernment a faulty self-diagnostic? Is it a question of being oblivious to what the body and blood of the Lord are all about? In extreme cases, does that lead to visible effects in health, even resulting in death? (I suppose the opposing maladies of overindulgence and hunger would seem to make that evident!)

There clearly is also in operation a reality that is communal, even political, in nature. Failure to discern the body is in line with one of Paul’s often repeated sentiments, “Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other” (10:24). When we fail to love our neighbor, across the street or across the world, we fail to discern the body. We fail to recognize our sisters and brothers and our unity with them.

In his book, Deeper than Words, Brother David Steindl-Rast uses the concept of “the holy catholic church” from the Apostles’ Creed and expands on it. He says that “our horizon has grown wider…Truly catholic is only that faith in Life and its ultimate Source that all humans share. It remains alive in the hearts of humans who are not even aware of it.” (139)

That’s something deserving of our attention!

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