Through the years, we’ve ignored some of our basic biblical truths. At times, we find ourselves in the position of those Israelites standing in front of the Jerusalem Water Gate after their return from the Babylonian Exile, listening to Ezra reading "from the book of the law of God."

We never heard such things before. Perhaps these biblical truths weren’t as emphasized as others in our religion classes; maybe we were absent the day they were taught; or if we did hear them, they went over our immature heads.

Being conscientious followers of God, our first reaction to discovering such teachings might also find us "weeping as [we] hear the words" ( Neh 8: 2-6, 8-10). Yet Ezra never blames his people for their ignorance. "Do not be sad, and do not weep," he commands. "Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be sad, and do not weep!" Yahweh isn’t vindictive about human ignorance.

Time to learn

But even Ezra presumes that when God’s people have an opportunity to learn, they also have an obligation to learn.

Few concepts are more fundamental and more ignored in Christianity than the early Christian belief about the risen Jesus being present in the Christian community. Our traditional Catholic emphasis on Jesus’ presence under the species of bread and wine provides us with much of the strength we need to live as "other Christs," but it also contributes to our ignoring Paul’s original insights in the body of Christ (I Cor 12: 12-30).

Beginning with the earliest biblical narrative of the Lord’s Supper in I Corinthian 11, Paul zeros in on one of the major problems plaguing the first Christians: finding Jesus in the community. Following the presumption that biblical authors write only if and when there are problems, the Corinthian church seems to have had no difficulty believing in Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine during the celebration of the Eucharist. Paul says relatively little on that topic. But he spends three chapters (12, 13, 14) teaching his followers about the implications of their being the Spirit-gifted body of Christ. His community isn’t being ripped apart by transubstantiation disputes, but by their refusal to recognize Jesus in one another.

"As a body is one though it has many parts," Paul writes, "and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, also Christ....Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it."

Active faith

Perhaps we’ve ignored the early Christian teaching on the community as Christ’s body precisely because of the implications Paul surfaces, ideas not found in our popular teaching on the bread and wine as Christ’s body and blood, ideas which entail our active participation in the community before that presence is evident.

We find something parallel in the Gospel (Lk 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21). When Jesus proclaims, "Today, this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing!" we forget that Luke constantly describes the true disciple as someone "who hears God’s word and carries it out." Because Jesus doesn’t expressly say this passage is fulfilled "in me," the implication is that all of us are "anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor,...proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."

When we hear Jesus’ words in the context of Luke’s theology of discipleship, we realize we’re not just to step back and applaud as Jesus accomplishes whose tremendous tasks; we’re expected to jump in with Him and do the same things.

(1/22/04)