Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 89:1-18; 147:1-11, 2 Kings 22:14-23:3, 1 Corinthians 11:23-34, Matthew 9:9-17
Today’s reading from 1 Corinthians is probably familiar to anyone who has celebrated communion in a Christian church. Paul’s recounting of Christ’s words over the bread and cup at the Last Supper are often called the Words of Institution, and are shared as a priest, minister, deacon, or elder breaks the bread.
In the early church, the symbolic or sacramental communion meal was frequently accompanied by a more literal meal, called an Agape Feast (that is, Love Feast). This meal was intended to be shared equally among everyone in attendance. Unfortunately the intent and practice of the meal soon parted ways. People who could bring the most ended up gorging themselves while others got little, and the wine flowed more freely than it should have. Paul reprimanded the church community at Corinth, reminding them of the purpose for these meals, and to keep their lustier appetites in check.
In modern churches, communion is usually a dignified event, but the tendency for some people to think they have more right to the community’s resources and decision-making because they bring more to the table can linger. In some congregations the currency of influence is literal cash, but it can also be seniority, sweat equity, piety, or other factors. When we have contributed much, we can struggle to remember what it means for the first to be last.
Matthew tells us of another meal where Jesus, much to the dismay of the Pharisees, deliberately sat and ate with tax collectors (Jewish people in the employ of their Roman oppressors) and sinners. Though he owed them no explanation, he said “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Jesus extended compassion, grace, and mercy where the religious – the righteous – would not. At other times Jesus did eat with Pharisees, but unlike the tax collector crowd they needed to be reminded they too were sinners, just a different variety.
When we break bread with Jesus, regardless of the size of our contributions or self-righteousness, we are all equal. Our present fortunes, for good or ill, do not make us more or less beloved by God. We are called not to push our way to the head of the line for the largest portion, but to serve each other. As Paul advised the Corinthians, “when you come together to eat, wait for one another.” Through the waiting we learn grace is not for those who deserve it, but those who need it. And that’s all of us.
Comfort: Jesus calls not to the righteous, but sinners.
Challenge: Volunteer at a soup kitchen, food bank, or other charity.
Prayer: Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield. Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. (Psalm 33:20)
Discussion: Do we have to admit to being sinners before we can hear Christ’s call?
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