A Wilderness Redux
Reflecting on the Third Sunday in Lent: Two Days after Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 81
Old Testament: Genesis 29:1-14
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10:1-4
God of the covenant, in the glory of the cross your Son embraced the power of death and broke its hold over your people. In this time of repentance, draw all people to yourself, that we who confess Jesus as Lord may put aside the deeds of death and accept the life of your kingdom. Amen.
I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).
The church in Corinth has too much confidence in itself and its standing with God. For the Christians there, divine favor in the past meant safety in the present. What was is what must be now.
God freed the Israelites from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh. Their passage through the Red Sea and God's presence in the cloud leading the way were indeed signs of God's grace, presence, and love. But that did not protect God's people from God's wrath when they disobeyed in the wilderness. Divine favor does not necessarily guarantee protection from divine judgment. The same people who passed through the Red Sea and who were saved by God through Moses would be judged harshly for their worship of the golden calf and their immoral behavior in the desert (Exodus 32).
The Apostle Paul warns the Corinthians that they are headed for a wilderness redux. The wilderness narrative in Exodus should be instructive for them that they might not fall into disobedient ways. The Corinthians must avoid what their spiritual ancestors in the wilderness could not-- idolatry, gluttony, and sexual immorality. Their divine favor in the past will not spare them from God's judgment in the future. William Loader observes,
Complacency easily enters in when God ceases to be central for faith and is replaced by the gift of heaven or the wonder of experiences past and present. The gift replaces the giver. Faith understood as an ongoing relation on engagement in God and with God in the world can never sit back in distraction or religious self-preoccupation or self indulgence, because the God we know in Jesus keeps opening our eyes to both joy and pain, to wonder and to need, and inviting us to see them and not withdraw from them, which is the wont of religion. God offers us a seat, for sure, and it is a great comfort to take it, but it's on a bus that’s going somewhere, so that the joy is being affirmed without denying the realities of the world. That had become the problem at Corinth. It was a kind of idolatry, not blatant, but more serious; religion had usurped the place of God, spiritual experience, the place of love. They’d missed the bus, even if they kept saying and singing that they were in love with the driver, Jesus.
This passage ends with Paul’s reminder to the Corinthians that there is no test or temptation they will face that is beyond their ability to resist. God will see to it, and in so doing offers a double-edged sword of a promise. On the one hand, such a promise carries with it the comfort that God's favor is still with them, and a way of escape from sin is indeed possible. But on the other hand, if the Corinthians give in to temptation they are solely responsible for their sin. They cannot claim that the temptation was greater than their ability to resist. If a wilderness redux takes place in Corinth, it will be of their own doing.
For the Christians in Corinth a little humility is in order.
PRAYER: God of the living, through baptism we pass from the shadow of death to the light of the resurrection. Remain with us and give us hope that, rejoicing in the gift of the Spirit who gives life to our mortal flesh, we may be clothed with the garment of immortality, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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