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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ross Douthat, Paul on communion, and getting God wrong

UPDATE: John O'Malley SJ, who write What Happened at Vatican II, has a reply to Douthat's article - Is a Precipice Yawning? John W. O'Malley, S.J., Responds to Ross Douthat

There's been a lot in the Catholic news about an article by Ross Douthat - The Pope and the Precipice - in which he goes on about the conservative Catholics whose devotion to doctrine will be betrayed if the pope allows divorced/remarried people to take communion. I haven't read it myself but I guess part of the "divorced/married people aren't worthy of communion" idea is based on 1 Corinthians 11:27-32. I think the verses are usually misunderstood as meaning *unworthy people* don't deserve communion, while it seems instead to be about an unworthy *manner* of participating in communion. Here's a bit about this from Ben Witherington's Making a Meal of It ....

One of the things that becomes clear as one works through 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is that Paul expects the meal Christians share to be far more egalitarian in nature than a normal Greco-Roman meal .... Even though the community meets in the household of one of the more socially well-off Christians, Paul insists that they carry on in a way that comports with the equality that exists in the body of Christ, without regard to social distinctions and social status ..... the wealthy are being served first and getting the better portions while the poor are in the atrium getting the leftovers .... the goal of Paul's rhetoric here is to remove obstacles to ... unity.

[... snip ...]

The reference in 1 Corinthians 11:27 .... [is] to those who are partaking in an unworthy manner, not those who in themselves are unworthy, which presumably Paul would see as including any and all believers. No one is worthy of partaking of the Lord's Supper; it's not a matter of personal worth. Paul is rather concerned with the abuse in the actions of the participants, or at least some of them. Paul says that those who partake in an unworthy manner, abusing the privilege, are liable or guilty in some sense of the body and blood of Jesus. They are, in addition, partaking without discerning or distinguishing "the body."

[... snip ...]

Paul is saying something ... about those who have become sick and died. Those Corinthians had partaken of the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner and had been judged by God for doing so. Paul uses this as a solemn warning to the other Corinthians against continuing to abuse the Christian meal .... Paul believes the Corinthians are bringing judgement on themselves, both temporally in the form of weakness and illness, and possibly even permanently in eternal condemnation. Paul even says that because of this very failure "some have died" (11:30), a shocking conclusion.

I don't even go to communion anymore so I find it hard to get very excited about this whole issue, but what did strike me as disturbing was the conclusion Paul seems to take for granted ... that God lethally punishes people in the here and now for infractions. This is a belief that seems to be shared by Peter as well - think of Ananias and Sapphira. In that instance, in chapter 5 of Acts, God kills a married couple because they weren't upfront about sharing all their money with the early church community in Jerusalem ...

Ananias presented his donation to Peter. Peter replied, "Why is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?" Peter pointed out that Ananias was in control of the money and could give or keep it as he saw fit, but had withheld a portion of it. Peter stated that Ananias had lied not to men, but to God. Ananias died on the spot and was carried out. Everyone who heard about the incident feared the Lord. Three hours after Ananias' death his wife arrived, unaware of what had happened. Peter asked her the price of the land that she and Ananias had sold, and she stated the same untruthful price that Ananias had given. She also fell dead, apparently a punishment for deceiving God.

Really? It's depressing that Jesus hasn't been dead and resurrected for long before the disciples show how little they understood the God he revealed ... ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. If even the disciples closest to Jesus misinterpreted his teachings, I've got to wonder how much more so the church is doing the same with its "infallible" teachings on subjects like divorce/remarriage and communion.


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