1 Corinthians 12
[In Chapter 11 Paul talks about the Last Passover Feast that Jesus celebrated with this friends. I will come back to these verses to reflect on on Holy Thursday.]
Paul has been emphasizing the importance of building the body of Christ. Enjoining on the people of Corinth to set a good example to those around them as followers of Christ. As he continues he will talk about the various gifts of each member but given by the one and the same Spirit. It is the Spirit that Paul credits with the Christ life that has been given to those who follow and have faith in Jesus the Christ. In the lengthy passage from verses 12-30 he uses the analogy of the body as it corresponds to the various functions that each person in his own way is gifted with. In other words, how our humanity contributes to and makes up a body that is one, unified. Just as the different parts of the body functions differently within one body, so too each person will have different gifts, talents and abilities that serve for the greater good of the community. Paul comes to a point that acknowledges that though different, each person (part) should be concerned with all the other persons since what one person does and feels is felt throughout the whole body. If one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it. If one part is given special honor, all part enjoy it.
What Paul is describing here is empathy. Which means ‘to suffer with’. For us to be so attuned to not only ourselves in self-awareness but also attuned to the needs and dispensations of each other. His thoughts then naturally flow to the subject of love again, and come to a culmination with that wonderful passage of the way we see, a dim reflection in a mirror¸ some translations say we see darkly. But at some point Love will open our eyes so that we will see without darkness or dimly but we shall see face to face. Of course, he is speaking of seeing God face to face. That sense I wrote about earlier in Not as a Stranger. It is of course the same idea. His progression comes to that place where empathy brings us to knowledge and understanding, the reality of all that is sacred.
And Paul concludes this chapter saying that as Love clears the way for our sight, it will also make the way for our knowledge of God as well. He says, I shall know as fully as I am known. To know as we are known. That our humanity, as Teilhard de Chardin in The Divine Milieu suggests, will continue to become more and more in the God in whom we live and move and have our being. This too is what I see Paul saying here. The Christ Jesus in God is the very ground of our being. We are grounded in this divine life in our sacred humanity and eventually we will know God as he knows us now. This knowing is driven if you will by empathy and love. That this then, our becoming, is the sacred design in Christ that Paul envisions as well for all the world.
So that brings me to want to nuance a bit the notion that all we need to read the scriptures and understand them is our humanity. The only hermeneutic required is our humanity. It is this heightened sensibility in our humanity that both Paul and Teilhard are talking about. To bring our humanity, who we are, with a sense of empathy for the words that reach out to us from the page, as Paul’s passion makes the promise of God now realized, moving in Christ, moving along the path that began with a man named Abram who was given the promise in the wilderness and then set out upon a path that comes straight (well, not exactly straight) to our doors. It is the God given grace, where the Spirit enables our self-awareness, the lessons learned from our own journeys, to hear the words spoken across the ages to us. There is nothing we have to DO. Paul says this is God’s good gift to us and we don’t have to work at it. All we have to do is be open to the Spirit that is as alive and well in us today as it was in the impassioned reach of Paul to his audience.
In other words, we can settle ourselves in the awareness of the Spirit, as God’s work of art, which Paul calls us later in Ephesians, and that as we read the ancient texts we come to a place where it becomes for us revelation. The revelations of ourselves. The revelation of God.
It doesn’t happen in sound bits. Some of the bible is too familiar to us. So much so that we no longer hear its words, their meaning. We can’t let what we know now color how we read the text then. We’ve heard and been told what the gospels mean and what Paul’s message is about, pro or con. What I am suggesting is that we come to the text as if for the first time. To listen in a new way, without the local color that is often more baggage than enhancement. Perhaps we even need to distance ourselves a bit from our studies so we can enter into St. Paul by way of what Paul Ricour calls a second naiveté, by which I take him to mean that even after all our study, which is good, we allow a fresh and open listening, that enables us to believe again. Without additional commentary. The words of St. Paul are heartfelt. Perhaps we could allow our reading to be as from one heart to another. That in our reading we both bring our sacred selves to the words and allow the text to touch us, so that we might touch an ancient memory that the Spirit surely makes available and connects us with today.