Eating Together

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 — Week of Proper 20, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalms 119:97-120 (morning) // 81, 82 (evening)

2 Kings 6:1-23

1 Corinthians 5:9-6:8

Matthew 5:38-48

It’s been hard for me to recover from my sadness at reading these words from Paul: “Do not even eat with such a one.” Paul asks the Christians at Corinth to exclude from meals their fellow brothers and sisters who don’t meet certain ethical standards. What a hopeless vision of the Christian community—not to mention the world—when people can’t even break bread together.

Why would Paul instruct people not to eat together? It seems so antithetical to the spirit of Jesus, who famously dined with tax collectors and sinners. It seems contradictory of Paul’s own desire that Jews and Gentiles eat together freely. It seems like such a betrayal of Christ’s gift of the Eucharist, for he shared his last supper even with Judas.

The only way that I can make sense of Paul’s uncharacteristic instructions is in the context of his other aspirations for the Christian community. In today’s second reading, Paul envisions a community that can reconcile its differences without recourse to an external structure that enforces judgments. It is a community capable of face-to-face negotiation and understanding. The kind of community, in fact, that reaches its settlements not in court, but around the dinner table.

It is very, very hard to build a community that can eat together. For the past four years, I’ve worked with Episcopal Service Corps communities as they develop a shared way of life. The core practice of all these communities is sharing meals together five nights a week, eating food that is purchased from a common purse. The practice of meal-sharing is both the base line of common life and, at times, a seemingly unattainable standard of unity!

The obstacles to sharing meals are extensive. These barriers may seem trivial, but they are deeply personal. In any one meal, a community may need to take into account nut allergies, gluten-intolerance, and cholesterol levels; personal dislikes of cilantro or onions; the question of whether purchasing farmers’ market produce is an unnecessary luxury or an ethical demand; and so much more. And yet, when you’re sharing a meal that has been made with love and compromise, you can taste the kingdom of heaven.

Paul is astonished that Christians, who should be able to model love and justice for the rest of the world, find themselves “incompetent to try trivial cases.” Paul expects Christians to one day “judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters.” Yet, how often do “trivial cases” and “ordinary matters” undo the families and communities that we seek to found on the spirit of Christ? Let’s defy the divisive spirit that threatens everything and simply sit and eat.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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