Weeds

Photo by Cameron LeeShowy and delicate; papery pale-pink blooms on a hardy and prolific plant that needs little care.  That’s a good description of the Mexican primrose–Oenothera speciosa–that has graced our front yard for years.  Sounds like a gardener’s dream, right?

Trust me: unless this is the only flower you intend to plant, and you plan on keeping it forever, you don’t want this in your garden.  It’s incredibly invasive, spreading quickly underground and popping up in unwanted places.  The root network becomes so tangled and extensive that Roundup won’t help.  Pull them by hand?  I’ve tried, spending hours sifting soil through my fingers, trying to get every last fragment of the plant.  But it always grows back.

I’m convinced that nothing short of a thermonuclear intervention will do the trick.  Even then, I suspect that if the entire house vaporized the flowers would still be left, waving their little pink heads just to mock me.

The only solution?  Don’t let it take root in the first place.

Similarly, if the church is God’s field, as Paul told the Corinthians (1 Cor 3:9), we’d best be wary of the weed of sin.

Having chastised the Corinthians for allowing or even celebrating an ongoing incestuous relationship in the church (1 Cor 5:1-5), he tries to teach them why this is a problem, drawing on a store of images that would have resonated with Jewish households:

Your boasting is not a good thing.  Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?  Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened.  For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.  (1 Cor 5:6-7, NRSV)

He quotes what may have been a well-known proverb (e.g., see also Gal 5:9): a little leaven leavens the whole lump.  “Leaven” is not “yeast,” per se, but a piece of last week’s dough, saved intentionally as the starter for this week’s.  The yeast in the leaven grows and ferments, spreading throughout the new dough, and so the process repeats from week to week.

But once a year, in preparation for the Passover celebration, in which leavened bread was forbidden for seven days (Exod 12:14-20), Jewish families would painstakingly clean their homes, removing all possible traces of leaven.  To get the sense of it, imagine scrutinizing every square inch of your house for bread crumbs, even on your clothes and under the sofa cushions; scrubbing out the refrigerator and freezer; scouring the stove and oven; sanitizing the microwave and even your tables and countertops with boiling water, etc., etc., etc.

Spring cleaning indeed.  Some of us are lucky just to get the dishwasher loaded.

But that’s the metaphor of scrupulosity Paul wants.  Don’t you understand the contagion of sin, how it spreads throughout the community?  You need to care about purity so much that you’d want to clean every trace of sin out of the church.

And why?  Here is where the message of the cross gives new meaning to the old ritual.  The NIV translates, “Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch–as you really are.”  That is the core of Paul’s teaching on holiness.  Don’t act righteously because you think you have to do that to merit your salvation.  Rather, be holy because that is what you are.  It is what God has already made you through the cross, through the sacrifice of Jesus, the Passover Lamb; it is what he is continually making you through the lifelong sanctifying ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Some of the Corinthians, it seems, had turned grace into a license to sin, boasting in what they considered to be their spiritual enlightenment.  No, Paul insists, that’s not who you are.  Root out the sin in your midst, before the whole garden is choked with weeds.  Be holy, because that is the truth of your identity in Christ.

So, who do we think we are?