Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Us Tempted? No Way!

First Corinthians 10:1-13, the Second Reading appointed for the Third Sunday in Lent in the Year of Luke, is part of a much wider discussion the apostle Paul is having with his beloved Corinthians.  He is concerned about their nonchalance regarding the worship of idols.  This text behooves us to examine our own idols, and see whether we too are downplaying the spiritual risks we are taking when we discount their power in our lives.

(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at some of the fundamental questions for Law and Gospel preachers, especially around questions of how the Word functions.  For more on this unique genre of preaching, see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  Paul is trying desperately to warn the Corinthians about the spiritual danger they are in.  His argument begins in chapter 8, continues through chapter 9, and now is the subject of this chapter as well.  His concern is that because the Corinthians are confident in their knowledge that "'no idol in the world really exists' and that "there is no God but one'" (8:4b), that they will fail to see that participating in idol worship is spiritually dangerous.  He goes to great lengths here to remind them that even though the Israelites were God's chosen ones, having received all of God's blessings, many of them fell away from the faith.  This warning is a Law function, to be sure, saying "You need Jesus!"

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is little Gospel in this text until we get to the last verse, which actually seems rather odd. Even so, here Paul assures us that God is faithful and in the time of testing will provide a way for us to endure.  It is not really a Gospel word, but more of a reminder that the trials the Corinthians are enduring are human trials, which God will give them the ability to overcome.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are clearly those being addressed in this text.  We are invited to see ourselves in the Israelite story as those who live under the cloud (the Spirit) and have been through the sea (baptism).  We are those who have received spiritual food and drink (eucharist), and the rock of our salvation is Christ.  And even though all this is true, we are exhorted to beware of spiritual presumption, lest we fall away from Christ.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  If we translated these warnings into positive admonitions, this would be wholly a call to obedience.  As those who have received the Spirit at our baptism, and the eucharist to sustain us, we are called to place our trust in Christ, and to flee idols of any kind.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Some of the most classic couplets seem to pertain to this text: guilty/forgiven; lost/found; worshiping idols/worshiping the Living God.

6.  Exegetical work:  One of the interesting words in the Greek text is found in verse 6:  typikos.  It means type, but the two most common translations are 'warning' or 'example'. As Richard Hays points out, in his excellent commentary, a better translation is probably 'prefigurations'.  "Paul is claiming that the biblical events happened as prefigurations of the situation in which he and his Christian readers now find themselves."  "The arrogant idolatry of the Israelites and the terrifying punishments imposed upon them by God actually foreshadow the perilous situation of the Corinthian church in the present time: anyone with eyes to see should learn the appropriate lessons." (First Corinthians, Interpretation series, p. 162)  Hans Conzelmann concurs:  "[As regarding spiritual food and drink] Paul is thinking not of a real, Old Testament sacrament, but of a prefiguration."  "'But with most of them... not to be well pleased' means the presence of Christ does not work in the manner of a natural charm. This means for the Christian that partaking of the sacrament does not confer a character indelebilis."  (I Corinthians, Hermenia series, p.  166-167).  Verse 12 is a warning against "pneumatic securitas, 'cocksureness'." (Ibid, p. 168)

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?   The exhortation of Charles Rice to help our listeners recognize their shared story in the text seems particularly appropriate here.  Just as St. Paul is urging the Corinthians to recognize themselves in Israel's story, we could urge our listeners to recognize themselves in the Corinthian story.  This is a challenge worth pursuing.

Blessings on your proclamation!