In our continued 30 Days of Paul Reading Challenge, we’re now at chapters 11 and 12 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian followers of The Way of Jesus. So, let’s begin!
In the beginning of chapter 11, Paul talks a lot about the proper attire for community worship — women should cover their heads when they pray or prophesy and men shouldn’t (vv. 1-16). And there have been a lot of traditions that take this passage to heart; well, the women not cutting their hair part. But, this was a cultural issue — not an eternal one (verse 16).
What astounds me, though, is that some traditions seem to overlook the crucial piece — women praying and prophesying in public worship! A lot of those same traditions that believe women shouldn’t cut their hair also believe that women shouldn’t be “over” men, i.e., have any kind of authority. Therefore, praying and prophesying is left only for the men folk. In other words, they get very caught up in the non important bits and miss the important bits (Matthew 23.24). Women and men having equal parts in communal worship is the important bit.
In the remainder of the chapter (11.17ff), Paul brings up how the divisions at the beginning of this letter have really messed up their community worship, insofar as people are separated into different cliques and classes during the Eucharist. In other words, the very thing that’s supposed to unite people is being used to separate them! This is still the case in many places. Whether one’s a Baptist or Roman Catholic or Reformed or Church of Christ, one must be part of that particular tradition before one can partake of the Lord’s Supper. And let me emphasise that — it’s the Lord’s Supper. It’s Christ that brought us all together and we have come up with all sorts of rules and regulations as to who can and who can’t share this meal.
“But what if they’re not [fill in the blank]?” I’ll say this gently but firmly — that’s none of our business. This is Christ’s meal and he’s invited all to come and share it. Paul tells us how to deal with people we assume shouldn’t share this meal, “Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way” (11.28). What would it look like if we removed these human conditions and had an open communion? How would it be perceived by those “outside” of the church?
I know what it looks like because I’ve seen it first hand. At St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, they had open communion — anyone who wanted to share the meal was welcome to do so. I’ve seen it bring healing to those who have been hurt by the church. Because of the Eucharist and Fr. Alan and the people of St. Michael’s, people who had once turned away from the church suddenly felt differently about it, maybe just a little bit, but healing had started. May G‑d grant all of our places of worship this type of unity, especially to those who have believed and been deeply hurt.
And that brings us right to chapter 12. Here, Paul uses the metaphor of a human body to explain that, because of Jesus, we’re now all part of the same family.
In the first part of the chapter (12.1-11), Paul talks about the Spirit giving each person different gifts but with one goal — the common good (12.7). In other words, we need each other. One person can’t do it all. And here’s the shocking bit for some — they aren’t equipped to do so! I know of a lot of parishes that expect the clergy to do it all. But that’s not the way it works. Each person has been equipped to do a certain task and, when she or he doesn’t do that task, the whole is weakened.
To explain what he means, Paul states that people who follow The Way of Jesus are like a body (12.12ff). For a body to work properly, each component must do what it was designed to do. Eye’s can’t hear; ears can’t speak; mouths can’t lift someone up if they’ve fallen. No, Eye’s are used for seeing; ears are used for hearing; mouths are used for speaking; arms are used for lifting. Each component must do what it was designed to do or the body is defect.
Furthermore, there are no primary jobs of the body components — each component must work in concert with all of the other components or the body becomes damaged and less than it’s supposed to be. If someone has a stroke, then the brain may no longer work properly. And if that happens, then parts of the body cease to work properly — the left side of the face may droop, there may be paralysis in the left arm and leg, etc. Likewise, when we don’t do our part — the part that we have been created to do — then the whole of creation suffers.
So, finding out and living out what we’ve been designed to do is beneficial, not only to ourselves, but to everyone else, too. “But,” Paul says, “now let me show you a way of life that is best of all” (12.31; NLT*).
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
* Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.