The examined life (part 2)

Zsuzsa N.K. /
Zsuzsa N.K. /

On the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. After giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.” He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.” Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes. This is why those who eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord inappropriately will be guilty of the Lord’s body and blood. Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way.  — 1 Cor 11:23-28, CEB

I’ve often wondered: what kind of “test” did Paul have in mind? Here, he chastises the Corinthians for desecrating the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, he suggests that they’re not really celebrating the Lord’s Supper at all (1 Cor 11:20), but something more like a dysfunctional dinner party at which Jesus is not only dishonored but forgotten.

The word “test” here is the same one Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 13:5, where he again encourages the Corinthians to test themselves. In neither passage does he describe the nature of the test, as if there were no need.

But in both passages, Paul points directly to the crucified Jesus.

In 2 Corinthians 13:3, Paul speaks of those who are demanding “proof” of his apostleship. Later, in verses 5 to 7, he tells the Corinthians to “prove” themselves, to see who is “approved” and who is “unapproved.” (All of these words are from the same root as “test” in 1 Corinthians 11:28.) And in between, he refers to Jesus, who was “crucified because of weakness” but “lives by the power of God” (vs. 4).

So what?

Against the direct command of the Lord Jesus to “remember” him in the bread and cup, the Corinthians had forgotten why they had come together. What should have been a ritual reenactment of the drama of Jesus’ last meal became yet one more stage on which to play out the class distinctions of rich and poor. In that context, “test yourself” didn’t have to mean anything more than “Remember why you’re doing this. Think about what it means, and the One you have come to worship. Then act accordingly.”

So too, perhaps, in 2 Corinthians. The people had allowed the false apostles to move their eyes off Jesus and onto Paul, and from Paul to the worldly standards by which these hucksters wanted to be judged. Paul needs to get the Corinthians back on track. He seems to think that the truth will become obvious (and his rivals’ lies equally obvious) to the Corinthians if they would just cut through the distractions: Look toward the cross. Look to the crucified Jesus.

That may not be the way we typically think about self-examination, as we’ll explore in the third and final post of this series.