Monday, September 13, 2010

Lord, I Am Not Worthy For You To Come Under My Roof.

Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom,
bishop and doctor of the Church
Reading I
1 Corinthians 11:17-26, 33
Brothers and sisters:
In giving this instruction, I do not praise the fact
that your meetings are doing more harm than good.
First of all, I hear that when you meet as a Church
there are divisions among you,
and to a degree I believe it;
there have to be factions among you
in order that also those who are approved
among you may become known.
When you meet in one place, then,
it is not to eat the Lord's supper,
for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper,
and one goes hungry while another gets drunk.
Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink?
Or do you show contempt for the Church of God
and make those who have nothing feel ashamed?
What can I say to you? Shall I praise you?
In this matter I do not praise you.

For I received from the Lord
what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,
took bread and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, "This is my Body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
"This cup is the new covenant in my Blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters,
when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
We have today a very important Eucharistic text and one which is just as relevant now as it was in Paul’s Corinth.

From reports that Paul has heard, the gatherings of the Christian community are doing more harm than good. And Paul has two main complaints to make.

First, when they supposedly gather together as a community there are factions among them. He has already spoken of this earlier in his letter where he mentioned that some were siding with himself and others with Apollos or other evangelisers. This made no sense because the only source of their faith was Jesus Christ, and others, like Paul and Apollos, were merely his spokespersons for the one Jesus and with the same message.

However, Paul indicates here that there may be one advantage in such divisions: they help distinguish those who are genuine from those who do not have the true spirit of the Gospel. In that sense, such divisions are always likely to arise and are probably inevitable.

His second accusation is more serious but not unrelated. The purpose of these gatherings was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, but, because of the shameful way they carried on, it could not really be called a Eucharist.

The liturgical celebration was preceded by a communal meal, soon to be known as an agape (pronounced ‘ah-gah-pay‘) meal. The word ‘agape’ means ‘love’ and is a word used constantly by Jesus to describe God’s unconditional and universal love for us and the love we ought to show for every single person, including enemies.

These meals were something like what we would call “pot luck” today. Everyone was expected to bring some food to be shared by all. Those who were better off would bring more and better quality food while those less well-off would obviously bring less or even nothing at all.

However, what was happening was that those who were bringing the best food (and drink) would arrive earlier and have it all consumed by the time the poorer members arrived. So that, as Paul observes, “one person goes hungry while another is getting drunk”. If they want to carry on like that, says Paul, they should do so in their own homes. By acting like this, they are showing no respect for the community and causing embarrassment to the poorer members.

To go on and celebrate the Lord’s Supper after such behaviour is little short of sacrilege and blasphemy. The Eucharist is the sacrament and sign of a loving community. A gathering, which is so obviously defective in love for its members, clearly does not recognise the real Body of Christ, which is the community. How then can it eat the sacramental Body of the Lord for whose real Body it shows no compassion or respect? In a later sentence, not included in our reading, Paul says: “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the Body, eats and drinks judgement on himself.” The ‘Body’ here is the Body of the Risen Christ, the gathered community. To eat the Eucharistic Bread while depriving brothers and sisters of bread is to commit a sacrilege against Christ’s Body.

Paul then reminds the Corinthians of the tradition about the Lord’s Supper which he himself received from the Lord through those who handed the faith on to him. Although this letter was written well before the four gospels, there is a marked similarity between Paul’s version and that in the gospels, especially Luke (who, we remember, was a companion of Paul in his missionary journeys). It indicates the tradition was well established and in a definitive form from very early on in the Church’s existence. The description is very familiar to us from the Eucharist we celebrate today.

On the night of his being “handed over”, Jesus took a loaf of bread and gave thanks (the word ‘Eucharist’ comes from eucharistia (the Greek word for ‘giving thanks’). Giving thanks was also the practice at Jewish meals. Jesus then broke the bread to distribute it among his disciples and said: “This is my Body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me.” The broken bread symbolises both the broken Body of Jesus, who died in love for us and the union of those who share from the one loaf.

All the important elements of the Eucharist are here: the single loaf, broken, to be shared by all; the giving thanks because of what God, in the human body of his Son, had done for us. And we are to continue doing what Jesus did at the Last Supper as a memorial of what he did. But, as Paul emphasises, this doing must be intimately linked with the life we live as a loving and caring community.

Jesus, at the end of the Passover supper, took the cup of wine. The red wine is the symbol of his blood, poured out on the cross; sacramentally, it is his blood. That blood is the seal on the “new covenant”, the new contract, as it were, between God and his people, who now embrace not just the Jews but peoples all over the world whatever their origins. “I will be your God and you will be my people.”

The drinking and sharing of the cup is also to be repeated as memorial of what God did for us in Jesus. So that every time “you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death”.

But it is not only proclaiming that death but the inner meaning of that death as a sign of God’s love, a love which we are to take into our own very being so that it flows out from us to all those around us. It is lives lived in mutual love that are the real sign that we remember what God did for us in Jesus.

The sacramental celebration is both an affirmation of what we wish to be and do and the source that makes it possible for us to make it happen.

Paul concludes by once again reminding the Corinthian Christians to wait for each other when they gather to share their agape-meal and celebrate their Eucharist. If the agape meal does not satisfy their hunger, then let them eat at home before or afterwards. To do otherwise is to make the meal a nonsense, and worse, a serious lapse in mutual love and care.

All of this we ourselves can take very much to heart.

Our Sunday Masses are not normally now connected to an agape meal, although many parishes do have ‘coffee mornings’ so that parishioners can get an opportunity to mingle and get to know each other after Mass.

But the main point Paul makes is that there is an indivisible link between what we do at the Eucharist and what goes on in our lives between our celebrations. This is something we can never forget.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 40
Proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.
Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Burnt offerings or sin‑offerings you sought not;
then said I, "Behold I come."
Proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.
"In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
To do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!"
Proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.
I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O Lord, know.
Proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.
May all who seek you
exult and be glad in you
And may those who love your salvation
say ever, "The LORD be glorified."
Proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Luke 7:1-10
When Jesus had finished all his words to the people,
he entered Capernaum.
A centurion there had a slave who was ill and about to die,
and he was valuable to him.
When he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to him,
asking him to come and save the life of his slave.
They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying,
"He deserves to have you do this for him,
for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us."
And Jesus went with them,
but when he was only a short distance from the house,
the centurion sent friends to tell him,
"Lord, do not trouble yourself,
for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.
Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you;
but say the word and let my servant be healed.
For I too am a person subject to authority,
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes;
and to another, 'Come here,' and he comes;
and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."
When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him
and, turning, said to the crowd following him,
"I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."
When the messengers returned to the house,
they found the slave in good health.
After he had finished the Sermon on the Plain (although we do not necessarily have to think its represents teachings all given at one time) Jesus went into Capernaum, the base from which he operated when in Galilee. Almost immediately he is met with a request for healing but this one is somewhat different. It will set the stage for developments which will take place and be described later in the Acts of the Apostles (also by Luke).

The story concerns the slave of a centurion. A centurion was an army officer with - as his rank indicates - one hundred men under him. He was presumably attached to the Roman garrison in the town or one of Herod Antipas’ forces. The Roman military in general did not have a good reputation and Mel Gibson’s film ‘The Passion of the Christ’ does not altogether do them an injustice in portraying their cruelty and brutality. However, those in the Gospel do not appear in a bad light. This is a good example of the danger of stereotyping any group of people - something we are all very easily prone to do.

He was not necessarily a Roman but he was certainly not a Jew. He was a Gentile outsider. His slave, who was very dear to him, had fallen seriously ill. This, in turn, implies he treated his slave well. Undoubtedly, he had heard the stories of what Jesus had done by way of healing and wondered if his slave could also be helped.

However, as an outsider he did not dare to approach Jesus personally. He sent a delegation consisting of Jewish town elders. These are not the ‘elders’ mentioned during Jesus’ passion but simply respected members of the local Jewish community. In Matthew’s account, the centurion approaches Jesus himself. Luke having him go through influential Jewish friends sounds more plausible.

They apparently were only too willing to help because they said he was very friendly to the Jews and had even built a synagogue for them. The stage is being set for the story of Cornelius, also a soldier and the first Gentile Christian, in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. Acts 10:1ff.).

While Jesus was on his way to the house, the centurion immediately sent word that it was not necessary for Jesus to come personally. As a friend of Jews, he knew that a devout Jew, and especially a rabbi, could not enter the house of a Gentile. He did not want to be a source of embarrassment for Jesus.

“I am not worthy that you should come under my roof,” he said - words which we now use every time we prepare to approach the table of the Eucharist. Just as he himself felt unworthy to be approached by Jesus. He knew that Jesus had only to say a word and his slave would be made whole again.

He recognised the very special authority that Jesus had, an authority, in some respects, not unlike his own as an army officer. He had only to say “Go” to a soldier and he went; he only had to say “Do this” and it was done. Jesus could do the same.

Jesus is amazed at the man’s faith. “I have never found such faith, even in Israel.” Only twice in the Gospel is Jesus described as being amazed. This is caused by the faith of a Gentile; the other was caused by the unbelief of his townspeople in Nazareth (Mark 6:6).

When the delegation returned to the centurion’s house, they found that the slave was totally well again.

What strikes one so strongly in this story is the character of the centurion who contradicted every stereotype of the Roman soldier which the average person in Palestine would have had. He is kind and caring of his slave. He has contributed to the building of the local synagogue. He is extremely sensitive to Jewish customs and does not embarrass Jesus by approaching him directly. And, when Jesus offers to go to his house, he says that it is not necessary. He knows that Jesus, as a Jew, would become unclean by entering a Gentile house. He is a good example how wrong we can be in generalising about certain kinds or classes of people. He also clearly illustrates how a Gentile could be, as the early Church only gradually discovered, a worthy person to belong to the Christian community. In fact, this story prepares the way for Luke’s account later in the Acts of a centurion, Cornelius, being received as the first Gentile member of the Christian community (Acts chapter 10).

The key factor, of course, in this healing story is the faith of the Gentile, a faith which Jesus said he had never encountered even among many of his own people. Beginning with Cornelius, this experience will be repeated in the early Church as the first Christians, all Jews, begin to realise that the Gentiles too are being called to follow Christ and that their Spirit-filled faith can be as strong as that of any of them.

For us today it is a reminder that Jesus can reveal himself to the most unlikely persons and that we must never presume that a person is unfitted for the Christian life based on past behaviour or any other characteristics. God can call anyone and he does.

Let us, too, follow the example of the centurion in our confidence in God’s healing power in our lives.*

The Irish Jesuits


Sarah in the tent said...

'the new covenant in my Blood'

The covenant with Abraham was in the blood of farm animals, but the new covenant is in God's blood. This reveals a new destiny for human beings to live in Christ - in His Blood - as children of God, rather than to live as farm animals!

In today's Gospel, I like the fact that, if the centurion is an outsider, his slave is the outsider's outsider - the ultimate reject - and yet he is healed. I also like the way the elders smugly inform Jesus that the supplicant is 'deserving' in their opinion, whereas the centurion has a much truer awareness of himself as 'unworthy' in relation to Jesus.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

When did Jesus drink the last cup?

Jesus drank from 3 cups during the Last Supper, but the last - the fourth - he did not drink from then.

Matthew 27:48, Mark 15:36, Luke 23:36, and John 19:30 show Jesus drinking vinegar or sour wine on the cross, from a sponge placed on a hyssop branch.

The hyssop branch was symbolic of the sprinkling of the Passover lamb's blood using a hyssop branch - see Exodus 12:22.

So Jesus was truly the Passover Lamb; then he said, "It is finished."

Edited for length from a comment by Michael Gormley.