11:27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.
If I were to make a Top Ten List of most misunderstood passages in Paul's writings this passage would definitely be on it. It is not true in all churches but it is a noticeable phenomenon that attendance drops when there is communion. Why? As a pastor I have asked some people and the most consistent answer I hear is that people feel unworthy. Sadly sermons have been preached on this passage misusing the text to say that you shouldn't partake of the Lord's table unless you are ready. In our church communion is announced in advance so people can prepare themselves. Sadly too many have misunderstood this to mean making sure they are worthy. If we were worthy from a deserving point of view we wouldn't need Jesus would we?
So what is Paul talking about? Well what is the context? He is addressing the proud and wealthy who come for a feast while ignoring the poor right in their own church. That is what made them unworthy. They came thinking they were more deserving than the less affluent among them. It was their sense of being worthy that made them unworthy. As my favourite author wrote: "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling." The only qualification for being worthy is our unworthiness. If we come thinking we are in some way deserving that is the unworthiness Paul is addressing.
Do you remember when Jesus called Peter to leave his boat and become His disciple? Peter and his crew had been fishing all night and they had caught nothing. In the morning Jesus came and encouraged him to go at it again. It made no sense. Experience told Peter it was a waste of time and energy. However this was the same man that healed his mother-in-law so he went back saying "because you say so I will..." They caught many fish and Peter was astounded. He came running to Jesus, fell at His feet, and cried "Go away from me for I am a sinful man!"
That right there is the portrait of what worthy looks like. The complete recognition of our utter unworthiness. Who can think himself or herself better than anyone else in such a moment of profound self-realization? To God we are of infinite value. This is true. If you ever doubt your value just look at the price heaven paid for you. Then look beside you. Heaven paid the same price for that person too.
The cross is the answer to all our issues of pride and/or lack of self-worth. If we were so awesome we wouldn't have killed God's Son but if we are worthless He would not have bought us back at infinite cost.
How can I look at people around me and feel superior? Act superior? Withhold from them food or drink or any other blessing God has blessed me with?