The “Haves” and the “Have-Nots”
1 Corinthians 11:17-22
17But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
Paul now addresses a serious problem that had cropped up in the Corinthian church. There was a sharp division between the rich and the poor and it was being played out during Holy Communion. The licentious lifestyle of Corinth was wreaking havoc in the Christian community.
Some of the Corinthians at the common meal was making a farce of the whole celebration. The wealthier members of the church, who provided most of the food, did not have the patience and courtesy to wait for the day laborers and slaves who would arrive later in the evening. Rather, they went ahead with their own meals. What could have been a marvelous opportunity for them to share with their less fortunate brothers and sisters was lost, as they freely indulged, in some cases to the point of drunkenness. By the time many of the poorer members arrived there was little or nothing left. The poor may thus have missed out on the Eucharist itself. It is likely, too, that on these occasions the wealthy members were physically separated from the poor. They would dine with the host in the main dining room, the triclinium, where in a typical house there was space for about nine to twelve guests to recline at table. Here the host would entertain members of his own high social class. In plain view of the festivities in the triclinium, the other guests would be seated on couches in the atrium, a courtyard area with seating for about forty people. These lower-status guests were often served inferior food and wine. Thus it seems that the culture of Roman Corinth was setting the agenda for the church’s practice. The poor, who constituted the majority of the congregation, were being treated as second-class members of the church.
Lockwood, G. J. ©2000. 1 Corinthians (p. 384). Saint Louis: CPH.
Here is where we have to extrapolate somewhat, because our worship practices don’t look quite like this situation. But we are most certainly living in cultures where there are rich and poor alike. And the modern church can be just as guilty as the early of giving favor to the rich and excluding the poor. We also have to recognize that each church situation is different. So perhaps is behooves each of us to examine our congregations to see if we are indeed giving favor to the rich at the expense of the poor. This is not the example we find put forth in the Book of Acts as the Christian Church is born and it is not the way Jesus told us to live.
As I ponder this idea, I must admit, I am probably blind to abuses within my own situation. We try hard not to exclude anyone based on their financial situation. But perhaps it happens anyway. I honestly don’t know, for I cannot think of any specific examples and I pray that the Holy Spirit would open my eyes to anything unjust that inhabits our little church. Even though these abuses may not be tied to Holy Communion, there is never room for them in our worship/congregational lives. Jesus died for everyone, rich and poor. His love extends graciously and equally to all. So there can be no room for that behavior in His church either.