Thursday, September 6, 2007

Discerning the Body 1 Corinthians 11:29-30

Sometimes you have to work a little hard to avoid divisions in the church. This was probably true at Corinth. We know that the church in New Testament times met in homes. We also know that Chloe, mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians, was one of the more affluent members of the church. Her home, possibly where the church met, could well fit those discovered by archaeologists. It would have an enclosed atrium, open to the sky, with a small pool in the center to catch rain water and room for no more than 15 to 20 people. A door would lead into a larger room that contained a U-shaped table for dining. Another 20 people might fit around this table. You can see how this physical arrangement might contribute to problems of division if more than 20 people attended.

When the house church at Corinth met it was to have the Lord's Supper as part of a love-feast, something like our potluck meal. But they had a problem. At least Paul thought so. He said to them in 1 Cor. 11: "... when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you (18) ... for in your eating each one takes his own supper first ... do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?" (21-22).

There were poor and needy, even slaves among them. Since the church met in the evening, and it was a normal working day, not everyone could get there early. Those who came early would claim the dining room while late-comers would be in the atrium. Some had plenty of food and others went hungry; some ate without waiting for others and failed to share what they had.

A few verses later Paul states the consequence of this non-caring, divisive behavior as he says, "All who eat and drink without discerning the body eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill ..." (29-30 NRSV). The were not "discerning the body". What does that mean? To "discern" is to look at something carefully with the eyes or with the mind. When I go to the pantry to find a certain product I have to look carefully and note the differences in size, color, label, etc. in order to find what I want (even then, my wife says, I have a hard time seeing what is there). Paul is saying, 'you Corinthians are not looking carefully at each other. You are letting your own selfish desires blind you to the needs and problems of others.' They were concerned about themselves but not the body as a whole.

We too can come to the Lord's Table thinking only of our own needs, not caring about others. In our individualistic culture we tend to shut out others and their needs. Steve Richardson, college professor and minister, tells of a lady in a nursing home who had a bad week. She was a loving, caring, gentle friend who had received bad news about people she cared for. In fact, several things that week had troubled her and she found herself feeling teary when she came to the communion service held at the home. As the elements were being passed the pianist played a hymn that had been the favorite hymn of her beloved grandmother. Suddenly, the emotions of the week hit her all at once and she began sobbing -- loudly -- not just a quiet flow of tears, but intense and obvious. Whereupon the woman behind her said, "Oh, shut up and drink your juice!"

We would certainly not be so crude, but when we partake do we think only of ourselves, or do we "discern the body?" Are we concerned and care about others and the problems they have, or are we, like Corinth, uncaring and divided?