Corinth’s “Sex Issue”

woman and man
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/indi/4202565878/">Indi Samarajiva</a>

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Even legal habits can be addicting. Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food – but those who live to consume will be consumed. Your body isn’t intended for illicit sex. It’s for Jesus. And Jesus is for your body. God raised Jesus, and God will raise us by that same power.

You know that your bodies are components of Jesus, don’t you? So would I defile Jesus’ body parts by having sex with any whore I can find? Hell no! You know that when you have sex with a whore you become one with her, don’t you? Remember Genesis? “The two shall become one flesh.” But if you’re part of Jesus, you’ve got Jesus’ same spirit. Avoid illicit sex. Every wrong anyone can commit is done externally, except sex. People who have illicit sex do wrong to their own bodies. Don’t you know your body is a holy spiritual temple? Once you have God’s spirit you belong to God, not to yourself. You’ve been bought with cash, so treat your bodies like God’s property.

Paul has a reputation for being a prude. It’s probably well deserved. But if Paul was a prude, the church in Corinth had an issue with illicit sex. Neither of them was dealing with it very well.

Neither of them really gets beyond the view of people as objects. And especially women as objects. (Paul is addressing the men at Corinth.) It doesn’t really matter whether the illicit sex the Corinthians were engaging in was part of other pagan cults that were on the scene. What matters is that they were buying people with cash. And inasmuch as they were participating in the dehumanization of people, they were cut off from Jesus, whose whole aim was precisely the opposite: to re-humanize people who had been objectified.

But Paul applies a theology to the situation in which God engages in the same behavior, buying and paying for people. Paul is too concerned for the purity of Jesus’ body to consider that hanging around with prostitutes and sinners never seemed to bother Jesus himself. Paul is too upset about the whores polluting his church to care for them as the very people Jesus came to re-integrate into the body of humanity.

Thanks to Paul, much of the church still has a sex issue. And the problem is still in recognizing that the sin is not in contamination transmitted by touch or even by the exchange of bodily fluids. It’s still a problem about getting past a theology of transactional redemption that treats people as objects to be bought, paid for, and used.

Take Them to Dinner

People at dinner
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonnygoldstein/5527073572/">Jonny Goldstein</a>

Mark 2:13-17

Jesus went back out to the seaside, where the masses reassembled around him. He started again to teach them. And as he went along he found Levi Alphaeus in the levy collection kiosk. Jesus said, “Follow me.” So Levi did. Then Jesus came to Levi’s house for dinner, where many other government agents and cheaters came to eat with Jesus and his students. (There were a lot of people following him.)

When the legalists’ brown-nosers saw that Jesus was dining with cheaters and agents, they asked his students, “Why is he dining with cheaters and agents?”

Hearing this, Jesus responded, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, just sick people. Likewise, my business isn’t with the goody-two-shoes people, but the cheaters.

Keep in mind that this was before doctors practiced preventative care. It’s pre-HMO, pre annual checkup. It’s still how most of the world goes to doctors: when they’re sick.

If you’re life is fine, you’ve got no complaints, you’re fat and happy and everything’s going your way, you’ve probably got no need for Jesus. You may have plenty of religion. But you’ve still got no need for Jesus. And, frankly, he’s got no need for you.

But if you’re like most people (in this passage, it’s mostly white-collar people at dinner) whose life is messy, Jesus is happy to have dinner with you. If you’ve got skeletons in your closet you’re ready to deal with, that’s when you need Jesus.

It’s tempting to see people who are part of the system we despise (state employees, teachers, librarians, the rank-and-file people behind the counter at the Motor Vehicles Office) as worthy of our anger. “Fill out this form.” “Pay this fee.” “That’s not in my job description.” “I don’t care that you’ve been on hold for 45 minutes. It’s 4:30 pm in my time zone and I’m leaving. Call back tomorrow.” Jesus sees them (if that’s you, Jesus sees you) as people caught in the same dehumanizing system as the rest of us.

When Jesus gets to the tax booth and Levi says, “Sorry, closing time. Come back tomorrow,” instead of getting bent, Jesus invites him to dinner. “Bring a few of your friends along,” he says. “We can talk better when you’re off the clock, out of the system.”

The upshot: People are pretty much people. It’s the context – whether they’re caught in the system or enjoying the company – that makes all the difference.