Saturday of Week 23 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 10:14-22

Paul today returns to the problem of Christians eating food offered to idols, while also participating in the Christian Eucharist.

He first warns them to stay away from all forms of idolatry. This is no empty warning. Most of the Corinthian Christians were recent converts from paganism and their old customs, coupled as they likely were with superstitions, could still attract them. In their daily lives they were surrounded by reminders of the paganism they had left: temples to Apollo, Asclepius, Demeter, Aphrodite and other gods and goddesses. The worship of Aphrodite, with its huge numbers of sacred prostitutes, would still have been a strong temptation.

But he points out that the Christians have not been left with nothing to replace these former practices. They now have what we call the Eucharist.

There is the “blessing-cup” from which all the gathered community drinks and which is “a communion in the blood of Christ”, the blood poured out on the cross and something far more meaningful than the blood of sacrificed animals.

The original blessing cup was drunk at the Jewish Passover. At the Passover meal which was the Last Supper, Jesus had said over this cup as he gave it to his table companions, “Drink from it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:27-28). And he had told his disciples to continue doing this in memory of his suffering, death and resurrection.

There is the bread that is broken which is “a communion with the body of Christ”. Again, at the Last Supper, Jesus had taken a loaf of bread from the table, had said a blessing over it and, as he broke and distributed it to his disciples, had said: “Take, eat, this is my body.”

Paul emphasises the significance of the one loaf which is broken and shared out among the celebrating community. “Though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.” It is again a communion in the Body of Christ, of which this community is now a part. It is a sacramental act of total identity of the community with Christ and of the members of the community with Christ and with each other. This is the source of their nourishment and Life.

This eating together of the Body and Blood of Christ under the forms of bread and the loaf is the Christian sacrifice which more than replaces what the Corinthians have left behind in the pagan temples.

Paul indicates that what the Christians do is in many ways not unlike the Jews who also ate the meat of the animals offered in the Jerusalem Temple to God. It was also a form of communion with the Lord in the old covenant. The sacrificial rites in the pagan temples were also a form of ‘communion’ with the deity but meant little because those deities were no more than the wood or stone images from which their images were made.

Paul is warning the Christians that if they do eat meat sacrificed to idols, they should not eat it as part of the pagan worship. “You cannot take your share at the table of the Lord and at the table of demons,” he tells them. His words imply that some of the Christians who shared the Eucharistic table were also visiting the temples and even involving themselves in immoral behaviour there.

Comparing his words earlier, he makes a clear distinction between eating food offered to idols as a sharing or “communion” with the imagined god and eating that food when separated from the act of worship. He forbids the first because it involves idolatry and he allows the second because the food has no sacred value whatever, given that the object of worship is non-existent.

Paul’s warnings against involvement in idol worship might seem fairly irrelevant to many Catholic communities in the West, but it can still be a real problem in parts of Africa, Asia, and even the Caribbean.

However, in the West too there are now several movements, loosely labeled “New Age” and the like, which attract many Christians, especially those on the fringes of church life, and which do not seem compatible with the Gospel and participation in the Eucharist. Discernment is needed to judge which ones can be grafted into Christianity and which are opposed to it.

Paul’s words about the sharing of the cup and the one loaf also highlights an aspect of the Eucharist which is often lost by many, where “going to Mass” and “receiving Communion” are seen all too often as the private and devotional acts of an individual.

The Eucharist has no meaning except as a community and sharing celebration. It is not just a ‘receiving’ of Jesus into ‘my soul’. It is a ‘breaking of the one bread’ and a shared eating which emphasises the real presence of Christ not only in the bread and wine but, even more importantly, in the celebrating community. In our next reading we will see that to neglect the community during the celebration of the Eucharist is a kind of sacrilege.

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