By Archbishop Dr. Thabo Makgoba
For centuries Corinth had been a major commercial center: multicultural, cosmopolitan and with a reputation for loose moral living. The gospel of Jesus Christ comes to all cultures with a message of both judgment and hope, and, as with so many places today, the difficult question is discerning which applies where.
For most of us today, it goes without saying that God can and does use women in Christian leadership alongside men, gifting individuals by the Spirit for particular tasks that do not reflect one gender or another. Given that in Scripture, the position accorded women is repeatedly one of far more equality and justice than in contemporary society (for example, from Deborah [Judges 4] to the Gospels), it would be surprising if the Church were to lag two millennia behind secular practice.
But the key objective for Paul in this chapter is to ensure holy, reverent worship, and especially when Christians gathered to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (which here may have been combined with a ‘bring-and-share’ meal). Therefore self-promotion by any group, or cliques, or showing off wealth, or hierarchies that belittle the poorer and less influential, or anything else that undercuts the message of Jesus’ self-giving sacrifice for all alike, is a disgrace. It has no place within Christian living. Yet in a world which elevates to celebrity status the rich and powerful, this is very counter-cultural. But the key, says Paul, is for us to emulate him and the best of Christian leaders and their teaching, just as they follow the example of Jesus Christ.
And so, when I read with sadness, the final chapter of the Book of Ezra, I wonder how many of the unrecorded wives and children, went away knowing that the refrain of Psalm 136 ‘God’s love endures for ever’, held true for them personally. I recall how another foreign wife, Ruth, was grandmother of King David, recorded in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:5). And I also recall Paul’s words from another letter, ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28).
‘Maintain the traditions’ says Paul. How can we uphold the heart of traditions, while appropriately making them live in our own societies and contexts?
Where do you find the greatest challenges of living ‘counter-culturally’? in what ways does receiving the Lord’s Supper help you to reflect the example of Jesus?
Lord, open my eyes so I may see where the ‘norms’ of life which I take for granted, run counter to your gospel, and help me live by your standards, not those of my culture. Amen.
Archbishop Dr. Thabo Makgoba is the archbishop of Capetown, South Africa.