Thursday, March 06, 2008

Equality in the Body

Thursday, March 6, 2008 -- Week of 4 Lent

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 955)
Psalms 69:1-23(24-30)31-38 (morning) 73 (evening)
Exodus 1:6-22
1 Corinthians 12:12-26
Mark 8:27 - 9:1

It strikes me today as I read this familiar image from Paul about the church being like a body, how important the context is for his words. He has been scolding the Corinthians for the elitism that is present in their Eucharist. The wealthy are free to come early, and they bring copious fare to begin eating and drinking before the poorer members arrive, sometimes with nothing to eat. "For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk" (11:21)

One of the markers of Paul's churches was the equality of standing for all who were members. The social divisions that were profoundly ingrained in the Greco-Roman became unraveled in Paul's congregation where "there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galtians 3:28) He elaborates on that oneness in his imagery of the body. The metaphor allows for the distinctions between people who have different gifts, different services, different activities in the church. Though distinct, all are organically connected in the Spirit, working together in mutual support just like the parts of the body work together on behalf of the whole. It is a beautiful metaphor.

Paul gives special consideration to "the members of the body that seem to be weaker." They are "indispensable," he says. Commentators tend to think that Paul is referencing the sexual organs of the human body as being indispensable, yet treated with great honor by being clothed. The analogy might apply to the members of the congregation who are poor or vulnerable in the society. It is they whom the church is to honor and protect.

The church as a body is a compelling metaphor, made more focused when seen in the context of the class and wealth divisions that precede this section.

In a way, Paul's egalitarian church is a fulfillment of the conflict that we see beginning as we open our reading in Exodus. Several centuries have passed in Egypt, and Joseph is no longer remembered. Pharaoh settled the Hebrew people in the land of Goshen, a fertile pasture land in the delta region of the Nile river, relatively unsettled with some natural barriers and boundaries from the rest of Egypt. The Hebrews had enjoyed a welcome from the Pharaoh of Joseph. They performed an important service to the Egyptian economy, raising meat without threatening the grainfields. Egyptian agriculture was crop based, so it was important to them that grazing animals be kept away from their fields. Genesis 46 mentions that "all shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians. For good reason -- their animals threatened the crops. (Reminds me of the song and dance in the Broadway show Oklahoma -- "O the farmer and the cowboy should be friends." In Egypt, the Hebrews are the cowboys.) As we begin Exodus, the thirteenth century Pharaoh Ramses II (in all likelihood) begins to oppress the Hebrew people, with forced labor and population control.

Thus we visit a major theme of scripture: the injustice that happens when we fail to honor all people equally before God. God acts on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. Consistently in the Biblical record we see God's concern for those who are vulnerable to pride and prejudice. From Exodus to Paul, we see the trajectory toward a community that honors all, giving special respect and protection to the vulnerable, weak and disrespected. There are few themes more central to the Biblical revelation.

Lowell

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Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.


Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html


The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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