1 Corinthian 4-6
Today our contemporary approach to our behavior is that it is not driven by what others think of us, at least so we say. Paul on the other hand does care very much about how the people interacting in proximity to his new converts see them. And he cares about the activities in their lives which distract from living their lives as examples and witnesses to the Christ he has brought to them and the Christ they have received. We are stewards of the mysteries of God he says. But what does this mean? And what are these mysteries?
Paul says that as stewards we are to keep to what is written. I take this to mean the Hebrew Scriptures. In the story of Israel are the unfolding mysteries that carry through in the message and meaning of both Jesus’s life and Paul teachings.
Stewards are those entrusted with the keeping and running of households. God’s household is the kingdom. The kingdom of God is not just words but it is power. Power. A big word, wielded, used as a shield, considered to be a way of being that excuses supremacy, rule, dominion over others, muscle, strength. Power here is none of those things. Power is simply in its most original sense, the ability to act. So what Paul is saying is that the kingdom is not merely rhetoric and nice words; it is something real, active and alive in our lives that carries with it activity. Action. Achievement and realization. The living words that have power over our lives. The Word that became flesh.
Paul enlists the image of yeast here. Yeast causes the dough to rise, be puffed up. Paul wants us to clear our households of the old yeast, the yeast that corrupts, that he associates with evil. We are to be the new bread, the unleavened bread. Yeast also takes time for the bread to rise. When God sent the plague over Egypt to encourage Pharaoh to let God’s people go, they were to sprinkle the blood of the lamb over their door posts so the angel of death would Passover and not kill their firstborn. When they were finally ready to leave Egypt they did not have time to make bread that needed to rise. So they took with them unleavened bread. They were headed for a new way of life. A life of freedom, freedom to worship Yahweh as they were meant. And the unleavened bread was the bread, the bread of their freedom and new life, was thereafter used for their yearly Passover celebration of their Exodus from Egypt.
Paul moves seamlessly from his image of the yeast and the new bread we are to be, to Christ as our Passover. Our unleavened bread; shortly he will refer to the bread of life and institute the words we now use at the Eucharist. The words Jesus may have used as he celebrated the Passover with his friends the night before he died.
During the readings during Holy Week in my church last year a boy named Jacob read one of the passages about Jesus as the unleavened bread, our Passover. But Jacob didn’t say unleavened, he said unleaving. Jesus was the unleaving bread. He kept to that way of the word throughout his reading. Jacob, you got it right! What a wonderful way of saying it. Jesus is our unleaving bread.
I wish Paul had been as insightful as Jacob. For Paul goes on to tell the newly formed community of followers not to eat with people who are wicked. But when Jesus was alive he ate with EVERYONE. Tax Collectors, Sinners, the Wicked. Jesus even said that the wicked will be welcome in the kingdom of his Father. But after his death his disciples did not continue this practice. Paul here departs from the actions of Jesus, actions that enraged the religious establishment, upturned their purity laws. The wicked were unclean. The unclean were not allowed in the company of the elect. But Jesus didn’t care what the religious establishment thought of him. He cared more for those who came to him. I do realize that Paul wants his new converts to keep out of harm’s way, out of temptations way, until at least they are stronger in their faith. This too is an example from when the people went into Canaan, the land promised to them by Yahweh; they were to keep to themselves, as a way of strengthening their community. The way Elizabeth kept herself apart after Mary left her, so that her child, Jesus’ cousin and first Heralder, John the Baptist, might grow strong within his mother. But apparently in the company of Jesus you were in the kingdom of God, no one was barred from admittance. With Jesus you experienced the action, the power of his grace-filledness, his life; he is our Passover, saving us from death, saving us for life, saving us for a life beyond captivity, to be led out with only our daily bread; saving us so that we might find him and know that he journeys with us, accompanies and sustains us, pitches his tent with us, our unleaving bread.