Left Out – Reflections on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

It was one of those moments that can cause a mother’s heart to break in two. My daughter found out one of her dearest friends was having a sleepover and she wasn’t invited. The little girl could only invite a few of her friends and unfortunately, my daughter was not one of the musketeers. I had the sad privilege of being there when she found out, and the look on her face when her friend told her this broke my heart into pieces. Funny enough, my dramatic girl didn’t even cry, but with a look of deep resigned sadness on her face, she simply replied, “Well, that settles it then.” Sigh. Not only was I heartbroken for her, but I realized at that moment that the emotion that spilled from her face echoed in my own heart, for I had felt the same feeling many times: the feeling of being left out. The feeling of the third wheel. The feeling of being shut out of the inner circle. The feeling of being excluded.

That old familiar feeling of being left out. Most of us at one time or another have experienced it, either as children or as adults. That time you were last on the line to get picked for a game of kickball on the playground. The party you heard about, but didn’t get invited to. The plans people made together that didn’t include you. Some of this is just a natural part of living life. And we learn to deal. But perhaps the hardest times of all for being left out are those that happen within the walls of the church…the place where love is supposed to be one of the ruling values. Yes, even in the church, cliques can form that can be very hurtful to others. In fact, sometimes things in church can get so bad, we feel like we’ve taken a time machine back to high school.

Unfortunately, this problem goes back to the earliest days of the church, for we see it addressed by Paul in his book to the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 brings up this issue of division in the church, although this is certainly not the first time Paul has addressed this issue in his letter. Here in chapter 11, Paul says, “I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you…” (vs. 18). In this case, the divisions seem to be between the rich and the poor, and are certainly being ignited by the rich, who were exhibiting some snobbish tendencies. Even worse, the prominent place these cliques are coming to the surface is at one of the most special gatherings of the church: the Lord’s Supper.

While there are questions about how exactly the Lord’s Supper took place (a.k.a. the Lord’s Table, communion, etc), many think it was almost always accompanied by the eating of a fellowship meal. Here in Corinth what seemed to be happening was that the rich were bringing their food together and eating separately from the poor, either in a different area or at a different time (eating earlier before the poor arrived). The poor, who obviously didn’t have the provisions of the rich, were getting practically nothing to eat while the rich were gorging themselves. This is most likely what Paul means when he says “One remains hungry, another gets drunk” (vs. 21). This may not seem that serious to us, but to God, this was a serious matter. Paul says that by doing this, they are “despising” the church of God (vs.22). What made this even worse was that they were doing this at the Lord’s Supper, which was a time of worship and remembrance for the church that was to be held in special honor. In fact, Paul says their behavior resulted in their taking the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” (vs. 27).

The Lord’s Supper is a very special time for the church, a time for us as believers to remember Christ’s death on our behalf and a time for us to express gratitude to God for this sacrifice. At this traditional event, bread is broken and eaten to signify the broken body of Christ. And wine or juice is drunk to signify the blood of Christ shed for us. When we take part in this church tradition, we are called to meditate on the reality of Jesus’ death for our sins…His life spilled out for us. But another component of this time is the fact that we do it as a church together, to commemorate the oneness we have as Jesus’ body, the church. Thus, while we break bread in remembrance of Jesus’ broken body, we do it together in celebration of us as His unified body.

But unfortunately, the church body at Corinth was not united at this special time, but broken. They were divided between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots. The rich were eating in plenty and the poor were lacking and leaving hungry. I guess it was a classic example of the age old dilemma of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. And not only was it “humiliating” those who were poor, but it was wrecking the unity of the church family.

Relationships can be a complicated thing within the church. After all, is it really that bad to have a group of friends who do a lot together? Is it wrong to be a part of a group that connects in a special way? Well, I would say “no.” But there are times for those groupings and times for NO groupings. And there are times when we should exercise caution in how we might be offending and hurting and humiliating our other brothers and sisters in Christ. Certainly, the special events in the church, including but not limited to fellowship meals and the Lord’s Supper, are those times when we should make a special effort towards being inclusive of others, so we have unity as the one family we are all a part of. We want to make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of the Corinthians, whose meetings were doing “more harm than good” (vs. 17).

So how are you doing? Are you being a force for unity in your church, or are you contributing to the divisions and cliques? Are you trying to be inclusive of others, especially at those special gatherings of the church? Are you watching out for those who might be feeling left out? Each one of us should be catalysts for unity in our church. Each one of us should strive to dissolve cliques, be welcoming to everyone, and show sensitivity toward others who might be feeling the sadness and rejection of being left out. After all, we are all one family brought together to be one body, the body of Jesus. And while Jesus’ body was broken for us at the cross, His new body is not meant to be broken.