Summary: Year C. Third Sunday in Lent March 18, 2001 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13
Year C. Third Sunday in Lent March 18, 2001
1 Corinthians 10: 1-13
Heavenly Father empower us to learn from the mistakes of others, as well as our own. Amen. 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13
Title: “Learning from the mistakes of others, as well as from our own”
Paul warns the Corinthians against over-confidence by drawing a parallel between what the Israelites experienced in the desert and their own contemporary experience. He treats the passage through the Red Sea as if it were a virtual anticipated. Baptism and the manna and water from the rock as though they were virtually the Eucharist anticipated. Their experience provides a model, paradigm, type, pattern, analogy for the present. What happened to them can happen to the Corinthians if they presume that the effect of the sacraments is automatic, allowing them to sin and yet remain saved. For Paul faith is a perpetually renewed decision. The sacraments are vehicles to express that faith, not guarantees or substitutes of faith.
In verse one, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea.” For Paul the Gentile Christians were so completely integrated into the people of God that they now shared a common ancestry with the Jews.
In verse two, “and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Here Paul is using Christian Baptism as the analogue. He would say Christians are baptized into Christ. By analogy he is saying the Jews were related to Moses in an analogous way. Clearly, they were not “baptized.” They went through the Red Sea “dry-shod,” never touching the water and the cloud was above them. They did not enter into it. Nonetheless, the analogy is valid. Under Moses’ leadership they were destined, by God’s desire and protection, for the Promised Land, just as Christ leads those related to him, baptized into him, into heaven. While all Israelites underwent “baptism,” only two, Caleb and Joshua, of the original wilderness generation lived long enough to enter the Promised Land.
In verse three, “and all ate the same spiritual food.” “Spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” were Christian terms, well known, to refer to the Eucharist. Paul applies those terms to Old Testament realities that he sees as functioning for the Israelites in ways similar to the way Christian sacraments function for Christians. Like the material bread and wine of the Eucharist, the material elements-manna and water from the rock- signified “spiritual,” in the sense of more than material, realities.
In verse four, “and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.” Because Moses fetches water from the rock of Meribah at both the beginning Exodus 17: 1-7 and toward the end Numbers 20: 2-13 of the wilderness wanderings, a Jewish legend grew up that the rock traveled with them and supplied them with water. Paul does not endorse this extra-scriptural fancy, but he does say that Christ, in some anticipated fashion that he does not elaborate on, accompanied God’s people as a spiritual source of nourishment throughout the desert. Many think that the statement “the rock was the Christ” is a later gloss, an insert by someone copying the letter. While this would make the interpretation easier, there is no clear evidence that it was not placed there by Paul. It was a basic Christian teaching that Christ, but not Jesus, was always present in the world from Creation. See John 1: 1-18.
In verse five, “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.” In fact, the entire generation of twenty-year-olds and up who came out of Egypt, except for Caleb and Joshua, all perished in the desert. Paul means to say that they sinned and their “sacraments” did not protect them or exonerate them from responsibility for their actions. Nor will the Christian sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist be able to override or trump willful serious sin for the Christian.
In verse six, “Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did.” We should not press Paul’s language too much. He is not maintaining that the only reason things happened in the past is for our present edification. They happened to and for that generation. Yet, one of the reasons they were written down and passed on was that we might be spared making the same mistakes. Scripture contains examples, paradigms, models, analogies, metaphors whereby we can look at our experiences and compare and contrast them with the patterns discerned in Scripture in order to align our behavior and attitudes according to the light they shed and standards they illustrate.