Posts Tagged ‘communion’

1 CORINTHIANS 5:6b-8

Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

The Christian congregation in the Greek city of Corinth was a church-start that Paul struggled to keep together. This was the group that fell into tribal factions, with some claiming the authority of Paul, others Apollos, others Cephas (Peter), and still others Christ.

Each faction defined Christian identity in elitist terms. As Paul was the missionary, the subgroup that identified with him could be called in today’s terms “evangelicals.” Apollos was a respected Bible scholar and teacher, and so his faction were the “intellectuals.” The reputation around Peter had to do with institutional leadership, which made his supporters the “traditionalists.” Finally, the Christ party were most likely those who identified themselves – and by extension the true believer – with various ecstatic expressions of spirituality, making them the “charismatics.”

As church planter and manager of the Corinthian experiment, Paul put a good deal of energy into the effort of maintaining unity in this bunch.

If that wasn’t enough, they also tended to let their sacred meals (Communion) degenerate into drinking parties, which only made the conditions more favorable for the loosening of their already liberal sexual ethics as sophisticated Greeks. One guy, for instance, was in a relationship with his step-mother while everyone else simply looked on.

This matter of sexuality was a bugaboo for Paul, and some scholars speculate that he may have had hang-ups of his own, perhaps as a closet homosexual or a less restrained misogynist. The fact of the matter was that Greek were more liberal than the folks back in the holy land – much more liberal when it came to matters of sexual orientation, gender roles, familial obligations, and marital fidelity.

                                                                                            

Hopefully this is sufficient information to put some context around the above passage. The specific concern of Paul’s has to do with the lackadaisical attitude among the Corinthian Christians over a case of reported “sexual immorality” – that this man was “living with” his father’s wife. He regarded this as a pinch of bad yeast that could spoil the entire recipe.

Without getting involved in a discussion of the divergences between Hellenic (Greek) and Hebraic (Jewish) morality, the point can be made that every society requires a set of moral guidelines to define the roles and rules of acceptable behavior. We can’t ignore the fact that Christianity began as a moral revolution in Judaism, inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus (a Jew).

Despite his radical message of unconditional forgiveness and loving one’s enemy, most of the moral regulations in family management and daily life remained unchallenged and unchanged. Jewish family relations were much more conservative and patriarchal, carefully defining the lines of submission and respect between husbands and wives, parents and children, and across the birth order among male and female siblings.

Whether or not a man living with his father’s wife was considered wrong in the larger (Greek) society of Corinth, the fact that the Christian movement was still Jewish in its basic moral values put this man’s behavior under judgment.

Was it wrong in some universal sense? Maybe not, but that wasn’t really the point. The ethical vision of Judaism, centered on the providence of God, his covenant with the Jewish people, and his redemptive purpose through them for the rest of the world – in which Paul understood his calling as “apostle to the Gentiles” – rested (or fell apart) on the day-to-day integrity of the family.

We may not agree with Paul’s tactic for dealing with this problem, which was to have the “wicked person” (verse 13) thrown out of the community. Nevertheless his deep concern over the issue is understandable given the context, along with the fact that Christianity was still a messianic sect within Judaism and not a separate “religion” at the time of his writing.

Paul was worried that compromises in the basic unit of family relations would cause everything else around and higher up to lose its moral tether. Condoning this individual case was de facto weakening the moral foundations of the community and larger culture.

If we’re going to change things, then let’s proceed in a way that honors life, protects human dignity, safeguards the family, and supports the greater welfare of all.

This might have been some of what was going on in Paul’s mind.

JOHN 4:5-15

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 

11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

“I thank the Lord, blessed be, that I was not born a woman, a Samaritan, or a dog.” Such was one of the prayers that Jewish men might frequently utter on the street corner or in private, directed to a god who was all about separation, purity, and control.

This poor soul, born as a woman and a Samaritan, was in a bad place culturally speaking. Her people, the Samaritans, had made the unfortunate decision centuries earlier to give up their Israeli pedigree and intermarry with neighboring groups. Just as your typical dog in the street would have been a mongrel and half-breed, so this Samaritan woman was literally a hopeless mix of nonredeemable elements.

And a woman? Maybe even worse. She – Woman as mythic archetype – was the one who first disobeyed god in the Garden and listened to the serpent instead. And the serpent – again as archetype – was a representation of slithering darkness, the slippery principle of metamorphosis, bound to the earth and the very embodiment of rhythmic time. She had fallen for the snake, which subsequently made her a captive to the dark forces of night, moon, and blood.

Woman was dangerous.

But she is also necessary to the tribe’s continuation through the generations. So, woman needed to be carefully controlled. Strict rules about when and how she could be seen in public, what roles she was permitted to occupy in society, and where she stood in the sacred hierarchy of things – all of it kept her busy, distracted, and safely out of the way.

In first-century Judaism, woman was saved by association – not for what or who she was, but for where she belonged, and to whom. So when she found Jesus (a Jewish man) in her path, this Samaritan woman was probably tracing out her proper avoidance maneuvers.

                                                                                             

Everything could have gone without a hitch, but then Jesus spoke up and requested a drink of water from the bucket she had drawn up from the well.

We need to pause briefly here to acknowledge a few metaphorical signals that the author has placed on the stage of this story. The time of their meeting is “almost noon,” just at the apex of the Light principle and before the day begins its slide into Darkness. They meet at a well, a symbol of depth and mystery, provision and life. And then of course there’s the woman herself – archetype of Earth-power, embodiment, and generativity.

This may help us appreciate Jesus’ “living water” as more than a conventional reference to running water, or water drawn from a moving stream rather than a still well. This living water will slake the thirst of the soul for eternal life – not everlasting life later and somewhere else, but abundant life now … now … now.

Every human being, in his or her inmost self (soul) longs for wholeness, fulfillment, and communion. In the spirit of the story’s central metaphor, we all thirst for “deep wellness.” Not life derived or siphoned off some external source, but “gushing up” as a living spring from within.

Precisely because it is not derived and secondary but always accessible by a deep descent into the spiritual ground of every individual’s existence, this living water – this answer to the soul’s quest and fulfillment of its deepest desire – cannot be managed by religion, qualified by orthodoxy, or confiscated by any empire.

Conventional systems of division, hierarchy and control cannot allow for a spirituality that is mystically oriented, direct and spontaneous, transcendent of doctrines, and instantly available to all.

Letting that loose into the world could foment a revolution. And no empire wants that.