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Breath of the Spirit
Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.
Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.
The realization that followers of the risen Jesus share in his/her Spirit was one of the pivotal insights of the early Christian community. Just as the historical Jesus was gifted by the Spirit, so now his disciples are gifted by that same Spirit.
JANUARY 17TH, 2016: SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
I Corinthians 12:4-11
Every three years we return to the early Christian practice of having a three feast celebration of Jesus’ Epiphany: the coming of the magi, Jesus’ baptism, and the wedding feast of Cana. In each, Jesus is revealed to those around him as being someone exceptional: a person who has qualities beyond those which normal human beings possess. There’s a “coming out” – an epiphany - of Jesus.
Only in this year’s “C cycle” is the gospel of the Second Sunday of the Year from John 2: the Cana narrative. Jesus is certainly revealed here as being exceptional. Yet, according to experts in John’s gospel, the evangelist originally had more in mind than just pointing out that aspect of Jesus of Nazareth.
One of John’s well-known themes is that Christianity is superior to Judaism. No doubt the evangelist would have loved the song from the 1940s musical Annie Get Your Gun, Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better. In exegeting this particular passage the late Johannine scholar C. H. Dodd frequently reminded his students, “John’s Jesus replaces the water of Judaism with the wine of Christianity.” Because Dodd understood that once Jewish purification jugs were desecrated with wine, they could no longer be employed for religious purification rituals, this was a case of the inferior being successfully replaced by the superior.
Ironically, as we hear in today’s Third-Isaiah passage, Jews also believed they were superior to other people. “You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of Yahweh,” the prophet announces, “a royal diadem held by your God.” Can’t get much more superior than that.
Yet both John and Paul would say, “Yes you can! Your faith in Jesus raises you above any other faith, even Judaism.” For Paul that especially means receiving the Spirit’s unique gifts. Though different, each is a manifestation of that Spirit in our daily lives. The realization that followers of the risen Jesus share in his/her Spirit was one of the pivotal insights of the early Christian community. Just as the historical Jesus was gifted by the Spirit, so now his disciples are gifted by that same Spirit.
Brainwashed by the seven gifts of the Spirit we had to memorize for Confirmation, most of us have never reflected on Paul’s nine I Corinthians spiritual gifts. The traditional seven “Confirmation gifts” don’t even come from the Christian Scriptures. Six of the seven are found in Isaiah 11 and have nothing to do with Jesus’ Spirit. They’re the gifts an ideal Jewish king is expected to possess.
I suspect we’ve traditionally replaced Paul’s gifts with Isaiah’s for the same reason the Apostle referred to them in our second reading: they can create as many tensions in the Christian community today as they did for Paul’s original readers. In this particular case, some Corinthian Christians mistakenly believed all authentic followers of Jesus should be gifted with tongues, while others had it up to their eyebrows with Corinthian tongue talkers constantly interrupting community gatherings with their “holy gibberish.”
Tension or no tension, Paul not only names the nine gifts; he also mentions that the Spirit has given them to specific individuals “for some benefit.” He expects us to work through the tensions for the common good.
Following John’s theology, if we’re superior to Judaism, we should expect to have more tensions in our faith life than Judaism. We’ve got more gifts. It’s no accident that when Luke described the Spirit’s Pentecost arrival in Acts, he hooked it up with wind, fire and noise – all stressful symbols.
It’s clear through the centuries that many of us have surrendered our tension-filled superiority to a non-spiritual, peaceful existence, an existence Paul and John would have judged inferior.
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