1 Corinthians 11:2-34
This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
New English Translation (NET)
Women’s Head Coverings
2 I praise you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head. 5 But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is one and the same thing as having a shaved head. 6 For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hair. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should cover her head. 7 For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 In any case, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman. But all things come from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God.
The Lord’s Supper
17 Now in giving the following instruction I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For in the first place, when you come together as a church I hear there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must in fact be divisions among you, so that those of you who are approved may be evident. 20 Now when you come together at the same place, you are not really eating the Lord’s Supper. 21 For when it is time to eat, everyone proceeds with his own supper. One is hungry and another becomes drunk. 22 Do you not have houses so that you can eat and drink? Or are you trying to show contempt for the church of God by shaming those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I will not praise you for this!
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 For this reason, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. 31 But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world. 33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that when you assemble it does not lead to judgment. I will give directions about other matters when I come.
Today’s extract shows Paul at his worst and best. To get the best out of Paul means standing up to his worst rather than making pious excuses.
Obviously some women in the Corinthian church were worshipping with bare heads. Paul argues against this with a bad conscience, as he had taught that in Messiah Jesus male and female did not count, for all were united in him, as indeed he notes in verse 11. So what’s his beef? I guess he was shocked at the boldness of these women, who seemed to be asserting their equality with men in the church community, and who might have been seen by conventional Corinthians as promiscuous, bringing the church into disrepute. To sort this out he uses a very dodgy interpretation of Genesis to prove that men are in charge of women because Eve was created after Adam. He might as well have said that pigs are in charge of men, as they were created before Adam. He asserts a hierarchy: Messiah Jesus rules men and men rule women. Clearly this contradicts verse 11 and much of Paul’s practice in recognising women as persons of authority in his churches. Stuck for better arguments he evokes common social practice, as a guide. Women should cover the crowning glory of their hair, lest they seem to be brazenly displaying their charms to the men, or before God, so that even the angels might be tempted. They are wild creatures and need a symbol of authority on their heads to keep them in order. This is mince (Scots=nonsense). All we can do with it is note that even a great and revolutionary teacher of faith can support conservative social conventions when they challenge his own traditions.
On the other hand, his guidance on the Lord’s Supper is full of wisdom.
The Corinthians, who worshipped in someone’s house, had perhaps agreed that when they met for the Lord’s Supper-which almost certainly included a full meal – those attending would bring some food and wine so that the cost of the meal was shared. The report Paul had received indicated that the richer, and perhaps in their own eyes more knowledgeable, believers, were eating canapes and champagne while the poorer and less intellectual had to do with bread and plonk.
Paul says that this is a travesty of the Lord’s Supper, especially as it makes the poor believers ashamed. He reminds them that the bread is the crucified body of Messiah Jesus and that the cup is the blood of the New Covenant of God’s love which is offered to all people. Jesus Messiah makes himself real to the participants as the one who shares his life with them so that they may share their lives with him. It is “The Lord’s Supper” not the property of any church member.
He goes on to say that the real crime is to participate “without discerning the body”. He means the body of the church community which is united in the body of Jesus Messiah. Those who ignore their brothers and sisters and forget the body of the Lord are guilty of this crime. He reckons that this spiritual and social sickness has led to physical illness and even death in the community, which are signs of the Lord’s discipline. He urges them to share the meal together in unity.
In this teaching no place is given for traditional hierarchies: the community of Jesus Messiah must gather as equals. In the world, that equality does not exist,but it will be evident in the “world to come,” and the Lord’s Supper is oriented not only to the past of Jesus’ crucifixion but forwards to the day of his return. In this, as in other cases, Paul urges his converts to “live tomorrow’s life today.”
Paul’s teaching about the Supper is part of his subtle and profound understanding of the church community as the body of Jesus Messiah, a messianic partnership of people who find their fundamental equality within the community and especially in its gathering for the Supper. There is no hierarchy here and certainly not that of priest over people. This does not wipe out difference however. Paul explains elsewhere n this letter that the true form of the church community is an equal partnership in which individual gifts can be recognised and cherished for the benefit of all. This form is already displayed in every true observance of the Lord’s Supper. Paul’s understanding of a communal unity which does not exclude diversity, where honour is conferred for function and not social or economic status, is an extraordinary achievement, which owes much to the Jewish synagogue, but is transformed by him into a model for humanity. It can still provide a basis for radical thought and practice today. A community that finds its true form in unity with the One Excluded, Humiliated and Murdered, will always offer a critique of the status quo.