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Lent 3, Year C, St Mark's, 14/3/04
Isa 55.1-9: Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Seek the Lord, forsake wickedness; my ways are higher than your ways
Ps 63.1-8:My soul thirsts for you; my soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast.
1 Cor 10.1-13: 4 sons
Luke 13.1-:9: Who are worse sinners? Parable of barren fig tree: give it one more chance
Collect: grant that we walking in way of cross may find it the way of life and peace.
Post Com: grant grace to withstand temptations and follow you with pure hearts and minds
Summary: Using the Jewish model of the four sons, Paul is urging us to be wise, i.e., loving towards others.
Today's Collect, post Communion, the reading from Isaiah, the psalm and our reading from 1 Corinthians are all concerned with our growing into ever deeper dependence upon God. But it is our reading from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians that I would like us to consider this morning.
We are in Lent, a season concerned with our growing in our dependence upon God through Christ. And we are heading toward Easter. When Paul wrote this letter he was, in effect, already in Eastertide, that is, the Passover season, and heading for Pentecost. This is why he says such things as "Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us" and ends up the letter saying that he is going to stay at Ephesus until Pentecost. So it should not be surprising to find that he has traditions associated with Passover in mind as he writes the letter. This is very true of the section from which this morning's reading is drawn, both at an obvious level in terms of what Paul refers to, but also in terms of how he presents it. In both cases, if we are to make real sense of what he is saying, we need some Jewish background.
Paul starts out by referring to the exodus out of Egypt, with the passing through the Red Sea as a baptism into Moses, with everyone eating the same spiritual food and drinking the same spiritual drink. So Paul's audience would hear these as being paralleled in what we call the sacraments of baptism and the Holy Communion. Thus far, so good.
But then Paul says that they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. What Paul is drawing on is a Jewish tradition that the rock which gave forth water when Moses struck it was Wisdom, that is God's Wisdom, and the tradition further has it that this rock went with Israel up hill and down dale. So, since for Paul Christ is God's Wisdom, that is, God's love as both his will and his power, so Christ is the rock that is always with God's people. Paul then goes on to draw examples from Israel's disobedience during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness to illustrate the things that one is to avoid, and, among other incidents, he alludes to the story of the golden calf.
I think that is enough about what Paul is openly referring to. But the impact of what he is saying is further heightened for at least the Jewish believers by the way he presents his argument.
In the Torah, that is in the Books of the Law, Genesis through Deuteronomy, there are four passages, three in the book of Exodus and one in Deuteronomy, that speak of requiring a father to tell his son about the Passover and the Exodus out of Egypt. Each one of these passages is different. As the Jewish scholars pondered on these differences they came to the conclusion that they referred to four different kinds of sons. Although these passages directly refer to telling about Passover, this understanding was then extended to sons in general in their attitude to the Torah. These four sons may be characterised as (1) the simple son, (2) the straightforward son, (3) the scoffing son, and (4) the wise son. Let us take these up in turn.
In Exodus 13.8 it says at Passover: 'You shall tell your child on that day, "It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt."' This was taken to indicate a son who was too simple even to ask for an explanation, so that the father had to start to tell him.
In Exodus 13.14 it says, 'When in the future your child asks you, "What does this mean? you shall answer, etc. This was taken to refer to the tam or derek 'erets, meaning the simple upright man who wants a straightforward and uncomplicated answer that will guide him in his everyday behaviour.
In Exodus 12.26 it says, 'And when your children ask you, "What do you mean by this observance?" you shall say, etc.' This was taken as the scoffing son. In commenting on this, the tradition says, in effect, that the father shall reply, "You say, "You", not "We". You do not identify yourself with the commonwealth of Israel." And the father is told: "Set your teeth against him and say, 'If you had been in Egypt, you would have been left behind!'"
And finally in Deuteronomy 6.20 we find: 'When your children ask you in time to come, "What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the LORD our God has commanded you?"' then you shall say, etc.' You can see how this might well be taken to refer to sons who want the full explanation, and so this passage was taken as referring to the truly wise son.
And thus we have the simple son, the upright son, the scoffing son, and the wise son.
Paul starts out today's reading by saying, "I would not have you be ignorant", and this opening part, verses 1-5, is addressed to the simple son, the simple believers.
Paul then shifts to the needs of the straightforward upright son in verses 6-11, beginning with the plain explanation, "Now these things are warnings for us."
He then continues in verses 12-14 by addressing those who are inclined to scoff, starting with the implied reprimand, 'So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.'
And finally, in verses 15-22 all of which come after our reading, he addresses those who are wise, saying, 'I speak as to sensible people'. The word used is phronimoi, which means those who are thoughtful, sensible, prudent and wise.
Thus Paul uses the model of the four sons to address everyone in the Corinthian community, from the simplest to the most mature. He does so concerning the kind of behaviour they are to avoid. As we have seen, he does this in this Passover and exodus setting. Paul then goes on to speak to them and to us through his letter of how we are to have loving regard for one another at the Lord's Table when in the cup of blessing that we bless we share in the blood of Christ and in the bread that we break we share in the body of Christ.
As Paul says elsewhere in the letter, "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ." Following St Paul, let us, indeed, hold up Christ to one another and see Christ in one another.