A Conversation with the Story of the Lord's Supper in Corinth (1 Cor 11:17-34)
Engaging the Scripture Text and the Filipino Christians’ Context
Ma. Marilou S. Ibita, K.U.Leuven
A narrative approach to Sacred Scriptures is not foreign to an Asian context. Documents of
the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences have continuously affirmed the need to
promote this indigenous way of interpreting scriptures to complement the Western methods
of biblical hermeneutics. In the past three decades, a narrative approach to Paul has been
gaining interest in Western scholarship. These two contexts that welcome narrative
hermeneutical approaches are a fertile ground for discovering new insights from the stories in
the letters of Paul.
To start the narrative conversation, we will make use of the latest reports on the hunger
situation in Asia, particularly the Philippines, from the Food and Agriculture Organization of
the United Nations and the latest newspaper reports on the hunger situation in the country.
We will also converse with the Filipino meal culture through the existing literature and our
own experience. As another conversation partner, we will engage the text of the story of the
Lord‟s Supper in Corinth (1 Cor 11:17-34). We follow the narrative-critical methodology of
Norman Petersen in Rediscovering Paul: Philemon and the Sociology of Paul s Narrative 1World. We will apply this methodology to 1 Cor 11:17-34 and focus on the sociology of the
narrative world of 1 Cor 11:17-34. In this paper, we will focus our attention on the plot in the
Lord‟s Supper narrative, highlight the characters involved, study the point of view of Paul as
the letter-sender, and analyze the closural expectations and satisfactions that the text
presupposes. Then, we will attempt to have a narrative conversation between the text and the
contexts, and vice versa on particular issues such as meals and hospitality, patron-client
relationships as well as community conflict and conflict resolution. All of this will have
important implications in the context in which we read 1 Cor 11:17-34. The context of this
paper is the Filipino Catholic Church as a Church of the Poor faced with hunger.
The Life-Context of Lowland Filipino Christians, my Context as Interpreter and 1 Cor 11:17-34 Daily liturgical celebration of the Eucharist continues to be well attended in the Philippines. But it is also a common sight that at the entrance of the church, throughout the day, some people would be sitting there, begging for food or money. While they are sometimes given food or money by the mass goers, one wonders how Christians who celebrate the Eucharist can effectively respond to the injustice of poverty particularly hunger. This is a snapshot of our life-context in which we seek to read the oldest account of the story of the Lord‟s Supper in Corinth in 1 Cor 11:17-34. In this story, Paul critiques the way the
Corinthians celebrate the kuriako.n dei/pnon and called it instead i;dion dei/pnon.
Paul describes what he finds unacceptable in the Corinthian community meal (vv. 17-22) particularly how it has resulted in some getting hungry and some getting drunk (v. 21bc). He, then, counsels the Corinthians to welcome their hungry brothers and sisters in their midst (v. 34a) by appealing to the foundational story of the meal of the Lord which is at the root of their continue celebration (vv.23-26) and its eschatological consequence (vv. 27-34).
To situate us more exactly, the life-context of our narrative approach to 1 Cor 11:17-34, is the present lowland Filipino Christians‟ context. Jose M. de Mesa, a leading Filipino theologian who espouses
Filipino theologizing, describes our geographical as well as the socio-cultural-religious context in the vast archipelago of the Philippines:
…the lowland Christian groups- Cebuano, Tagalog, Ilokano, Ilongo, Bikolano, Waray-Waray,
Pampango and Pangasinan. These form a socio-cultural entity because they share a common
cultural history and a common belief in Roman Catholicism which have reduce their cultural
1Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1985.
differences to a point where they are more than counter-balanced by cultural similarities. The
principal source of cultural differentiation among them is language rather than race, religion, or
social and economic organization. Nine out of every ten Filipinos are Christians, most of whom
are Catholics, and live on lowland coasts and in valleys. Although they exhibit some differences
in diet, dress, and custom, the lowland Christians, as they are collectively known, are remarkably 2homogenous in culture and society and have had a long history of harmonious interrelations.
Our particular lowland Filipino Christian context will include three interrelated aspects: the specific challenge of gutom (hunger) besetting our country today, our deeply-rooted salu-salo (or kainan, meal-
orientedness) and our fondness for kwentuhan (story-telling and conversation). Our fondness for story-
telling is hoped to help us in our hermeneutical task where there is a growing need for inculturated approaches. In this respect, we believe that a narrative approach may be more sensitive to the indigenous approaches of interpretation. Moreover, it relates to the interesting use of the farewell meal story of the Lord which Paul appeals to in correcting the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:23-26). Our deeply-rooted meal-orientedness can serve as the prism in which we can view and engage the story of the Lord‟s Supper and the abuses in Corinth which Paul censures in vv. 17-34. The concrete challenge of hunger in the country today beckons lowland Filipino Christians who continue to tell and celebrate the Lord‟s Supper to 3responsively respond to this injustice as we endeavour to become the Church of the Poor.
While these aspects of the lowland Filipino Christians‟ context remain a constant background and horizon 4for my option to converse with the biblical text, my own personal context makes engaging the Bible contextually even more complicated. I am a lowland Filipina Christian myself who has taught biblical classes for three years in seminaries and formation houses in Metro Manila. The reality of people begging for food, especially street children and street families, was a constant challenge in the vicinity of the places where I worked and lived and where Eucharistic celebration is part of daily life. I have been influenced in my study of the Bible by brilliant mentors who were also passionate with social justice. Some are Filipinos who received their doctorate from European universities while some are European and American missionaries who have been in the Philippines even before I was born. Now, I am a doctoral student in Biblical Exegesis in the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, learning western biblical methodologies but always desiring to make my scriptural and theological training relevant to the present day Filipino context that has shaped me and continues to be one of my foremost concerns. While I am aware that there is a debate concerning who can do Asian contextualized theologizing, how it should be done, and where it ought to be discerned and articulated, I believe that Western-schooled Asian scholars
2For a discussion on lowland Filipino Christians, see Jose M. de Mesa, “Providence as God‟s Children for his People in the Lowland Filipino Context: An Attempt at Theological Re-rooting of a Gospel Theme” PhD. Dissertation,
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 1978, xiii-xiv. He also uses the same description of lowland Filipinos in his follow
up work, And God Said, “Bahala na!”: The Theme of Providence in the Lowland Filipino Context Maryhill Studies
2 (Jose M. de Mesa, 1979), Foreword. Our attempt to specifically mention the lowland Filipino context is meant to respect the meal practices of other Filipinos who live in the mountains and the seas or smaller islands of the archipelago. 3 This is the vision of church set forth in the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, Acts and Decrees of the
Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (Pasay City: Paulines Publishing House, 1992), nos. 122-136. This is also
one of the visions for the church in Asia, see Final Statement and Recommendations of the Fifth Bishops‟ Institute
for Social Action held in Baguio City, Philippines on 21 May to 1 June 1979 in Gaudencio B. Rosales and C. G. Arevalo, eds. For All the Peoples of Asia: Federation of Asian Bishops‟ Conferences Documents from 1970 to 1991
(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis and Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1992), 217-221 specifically p.219. Likewise, see Arnel Lagarejos, The Church of the Poor. A Moral-Theological Investigation of its Development and Incedence on the Relations Between Church and State. Excerpta ex Dissertatione ad Doctoratum in Facultae Theologiæ PontificæUniversitatis Gregorianæ (Romæ, 1998). 4 In the lowland Filipino context, “kwentuhan” can both mean conversation and story-telling and conversation itself
can include a lot of story-telling.
have a particular contribution in this worthy endeavour. In this paper we will follow the example of Norman R. Petersen‟s narrative analysis of a Pauline letter, but limit ourselves to a study of the characters
I will also go beyond it because of my contextual concerns that include narrative in 1 Cor 11:17-34. Yet
hermeneutics which is indigenous to Asia and the Philippines, the Filipino meal culture that I continue to have and encounter even outside the Philippines and the challenge of hunger the beset my people, and a million others, even now.
A Closer Look at the Lowland Filipino Christian Context and the Story of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth
As we mentioned in our introduction, there are three aspects of lowland Filipino contexts that will serve as conversation partner of our interpretation of 1 Cor 11:17-34. These aspects include the hunger situation that beset many Filipinos, the meal culture of the lowland Filipino Christians, and the Filipinos‟ penchant for story-telling. These three aspects engage the story of the Lord‟s Supper in Corinth in line with the
text‟s context of famine and the issue of hunger in the Corinthian setting, the abuses at the communal table-fellowship, and the importance of story-telling in correcting the faulty celebration. We will discuss each one of them below.
1. Hunger in the Philippines and Hunger in 1 Cor 11:21bc
The first aspect of the current Filipino context that needs to be considered in view of our dialogue with the story of the Lord‟s Supper in 1 Cor 11:17-34, particularly vv.21bc, 33-34a, is the problem of hunger
besetting the country today. We recognize that the issue of hunger, its cause, effect and possible solution, 5is complicated. I have also spoken about my face to face encounter with hungry people especially those who constantly beg at the door of the churches and those who knock at convent doors. When seen in the larger perspective the picture is even more disturbing. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the one billion mark of people suffering hunger has been 6reached as the economic situation worldwide has worsened. Twenty-five countries in Asia, including the 7Philippines, are considered Low-Income Food Deficit Countries by the FAO and according to the 2009
Millennium Development Goals report cites that 21% of the population in Southern Asia in 2008 is 8undernourished. The current situation in our country presents an impoverished nation with a good 9number of its almost 92 million people suffering hunger everyday. The recent survey of the Social
Weather Station (SWS) in the Philippines reports the following:
The June 2009 survey also found that 39% of Filipino families (est. 7.2 million) consider
themselves as Food-Poor, 33% put themselves on the Food-Borderline, and 28% consider
themselves as Not Food-Poor. Self-Rated Food Poverty has been volatile at 49% in June 2008,
5 We cannot pinpoint just one cause of hunger or only one way to solve this problem. Modern hunger situation is related to poverty, land rights and ownership, diversion of land use to non-productive use, increasing emphasis on export-oriented agriculture, inefficient agricultural practices, war, famine, drought, over-fishing, poor crop yield, lack of democracy and rights and many others. See the relevant materials available from
http://www.wfp.org/hunger/causes (accessed 28 September 2009). 6 This recent development is one of the important background and agenda of the coming World Summit on Food Security in Rome on 16-18 November, 2009 in Rome. For more details see http://www.fao.org/wsfs/world-
summit/en/ (accessed 19 September 2009). 7 Information available from http://www.fao.org/countryprofiles/lifdc.asp?lang=en (access 20 September 2009) 8 See The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009 (New York: United Nations, 2009), 11 available from
http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/MDG_Report_2009_ENG.pdf (accessed 20 September 2009). 9 The projected Philippine population in 2009 is 92.23 million according to the National Statistics Office available from http://www.census.gov.ph/ (17 September 2009).
38% in September 2008, 42% in December 2008, 36% in February 2009, and 39% in June 102009.
In a related report, the SWS made known that in the second quarter of 2009, overall hunger in the country rose to 5%. The change is particularly due to the increase of people experiencing “moderate hunger” which includes Filipinos experiencing involuntary hunger “only once” or “a few times.” The increase in the last three months involves an estimated 2.0 million Filipino families (11.1%) to about 2.9 million families (16%) and is 7 points above the average of those experiencing “Moderate Hunger” in the last ten 11years. The report concerning those who experience “Severe Hunger,” i.e. those who experience hunger "Often" or "Always" in the last three months, declined a bit from 4.4% (about 810,000 families) in the month of February to 4.3% (estimated 790,000 families) in June of this year. In comparison to the past ten 12years, this result is only just a point above the average “Severe Hunger” rate of 3.4%. Since June 2004,
surveys on hunger in the country have been in double-digits consistently. The mere fact that hunger surveys and hunger reports are nuanced already indicates the severity of the problem. 2. Filipino Meal–Orientedness (Pagsasalu-salo) and 1 Cor 11:17-34
One wonders how this above-mentioned challenge of hunger can be responded to individually and communally in a nation where daily and Sunday Eucharistic celebrations remain very well attended and that has a deeply rooted meal culture. While the issue of hunger and proposed solution to it are highly complex, in this present study we would like to examine how a more conscious remembering of the kuriako.n deipnon augmented by sensitivity to the Filipino meal culture (pagsasalu-salo)
particularly the value of hating-kapatid can be potentially effective. Both of these factors can make
lowland Filipino Christians today realize their common identity as people and as Christians for an attitude that could lead to a reconsideration of how our culture and faith celebration embodied in the Eucharist can potentially enhance diverse effective communal response to the issue of hunger. This insight finds expression in the Filipinos‟ popular but inadequately unarticulated Christological image of Jesus Christ at 13table.
Our lowland Filipino food culture is best summarized by one of the most common greeting: “Kain tayo!"
or "Salo na!" ("Come, let us eat!"). This greeting is usually spoken by someone who has food or someone who has prepared the food to those surrounding him or her, whether they are friends or strangers and can result in food sharing and story-telling. This practice points to our food and narrative culture.
We Filipinos are meal-oriented (salu-salo, kainan). Because Filipinos consider almost everyone
as part of their family (parang pamilya), we are known for being gracious hosts and grateful
guests. Serving our guest with the best we have is an inborn value to Filipinos, rich and poor alike.
We love to celebrate any and all events with a special meal. Even with unexpected guests, we
10 See 04 August 2009 report entitled, “Second Quarter 2009 Social Weather Survey: Self-Rated Poverty is 50%;
Self-Rated Food Poverty is 39%” available from http://www.sws.org.ph/ (accessed 16 September 2009). 11 See 27 July 2009 “Second Quarter 2009 Social Weather Survey: Hunger rises to 20.3% of families; Moderate Hunger is 16.0%, Severe Hunger is 4.3%” available from http://www.sws.org.ph/ (accessed 16 September 2009). 12 Ibid. 13 One of the most common expressions is the presence of a depiction of the Last Supper in Filipino dining rooms. While most of the images still bear the European model, local representations are multiplying. See also José M. de Mesa and Lode Wostyn, Doing Christology: The Reappropriation of a Tradition (Quezon City: Claretians, 1989),
128-133 and José M. de Mesa, “Ang Eukaristiya: Bagong Ugnayan” in Solidarity with Culture: Studies in
Theological Re-rooting. Maryhill Studies 4 (Quezon City), 200-223 for a related Filipino reading of Jesus‟ table
fellowship and the Eucharist.
Filipinos try our best to offer something, meager as it may be, with the traditional greeting: 14„Come and eat with us‟ (Tuloy po kayo at kumain muna tayo).
Without being exhaustive of the meaning of table-fellowship and the relationships of table-fellows in the Filipino setting, it has been observed that one can guess the degree of relationship among partakers of meals in the lowland Filipino setting by the way people treat each other. This ranges from ibang tao 15(outsider category) to hindi ibang tao (insider category). Carmen Santiago made a study on the language
of food sharing in a middle class town of Bulacan that reflects this view and can help enlighten this 16custom. While the study was written thirty-three years ago, the practice is still mostly the same. Filipino hospitality expressed in table-fellowship continues to follow the movement that we will describe below. Likewise, while the study was also done with the middle class as main subject, the graciousness of the Filipino as host and gratefulness as guest is not limited to those who can afford. Even among the poor, there is a parallel gracious hospitality even with the material limitations. Filipinos‟ meal-orientedness
expresses their meaning in life.
The Filipino map of personal hierarchy is part of the interpersonal relations that govern the way we deal with our fellow human beings. The goal of this is pakikipagkapwa (humanness at its highest level, shared
inner identity). In pakikipagkapwa, one arrives at the level where the kapwa (other) is sarili na rin 17(oneself). The concept of the shared inner self is the basis of the concept of kapwa and not just smooth 18interpersonal relationships. For this reason, it is more concerned with the recognition of shared identity, an inner self that is shared with others and thus it is the only concept that embraces both the categories of
14 See Catholic Bishops‟ Conference, Catechism for Filipino Catholics (Manila: CBCP, 2005), No. 37. 15 See also Brazal, “Reinventing Pakikipagkapwa,” 56: “According to Enriquez, this does not mean that the Filipino
does not distinguish between the „in-group‟ and the „out-group‟, the „member‟ or the „non-member,‟ as other ethnic
groups do. It just seems that the Filipino is more flexible in drawing the lines. We do have a concept of the ibang
tao- the stranger, the foreigner, the person of another religion or culture. But it would seem that the „other‟ is not really treated as a „totally other‟ or „in opposition to the self.‟” 16 See Carmen Santiago, “The Language of Food”, in The Culinary Culture of the Philippines (Manila: Bancom
Audiovision Corporation, 1976), 133-139. This is still generally the case in the rural areas, other factors are slowly effecting some changes. These changes are most obvious in the urban setting where eating out in fast foods and restaurants is becoming more common in cementing relationships through meals. Migration also has its effect as Filipinos become exposed to the food culture of other nations. See for example the essay of Nota F. Magno, “Filipino Food Ways in Japan: A case of Filipino Migrant Women Married to Japanese Men in Tokyo” Philippine
Sociological Review Vol.48 (January- December 2000): 52-71. 17 Virgilio Enriquez, “Kapwa and the Struggle for Justice, Freedom and Dignity” Pamamaraan: Indigenous
Knowledge and Evolving Research Paradigms Teresita Obusan and Angelina Rodriguez, eds. (Quezon City: Asian
Center, 1994), 1-18, here 3. See also Katrin de Guia, Kapwa: The Self in the Other: Worldviews and Lifestyles of
Filipino Culture Bearers (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, 2005). On p. 27 she follows the description that is the core
value of the Filipinos, taking it from the “Value System of Philippine Psychology” in Virgilio Enriquez, From
Colonial to Liberation Psychology (Quezon City: UP Press, 1992), 75. On pp.8-9 de Guia explains that kapwa is not
limited to human persons but also includes nature. See also Agnes M. Brazal, “Reinventing Pakikipagkapwa: An
Exploration of its potential for Promoting Respect for Plurality and Difference” in Fundamentalism and Pluralism in
the Church, ed. Dennis T. Gonzalez (Manila: DAKATEO, 2004), 50-70, especially 66-67 where she mentions examples of food-sharing among non-lowland Filipinos. She mentions the Ibaloi well-off villagers who supply the food and drink during harvest feast; a group of Western Manobos‟ concept of upakat (“in times of crisis, they have
mutual sharing of food, work and support”; and a practice among Agta hunters to share the biggest part of the
animal that they have hunted to the weakest members of their group, namely, the young and the old. Semblances of these are also present in the lowland Filipino Christian context. Hence, we believe that while there is a great possibility that there could be similarities in meal cultures among Filipinos, our lack of concrete experience with them and the paucity of materials we have at hand prevents us from making a generalized claim on the non-lowland Filipinos and their meal practices. 18 Frank Lynch, “Social Acceptance,” Institute of Philippine Culture Paper 2 (1968):1-21.
19outsiders (ibang tao) and the insiders (hindi ibang tao). In this study we will examine how these levels
of relationship are reflected in Filipino Pagsasalu-salo.
According to Santiago, the interpersonal relationship which is noticeable in table fellowship can be divided into two categories concerning interpersonal relationships: ibang tao (Outsider Category) and
hindi ibang tao (Insider Category). Examining Table 1: Levels of Relationships in a Filipino Pagsasalu-
salo (please see attachment), we see that the ibang tao Category has three levels: pakikitungo (level of
amenities), pakikibagay (level of conforming) and pakikisama (level of adjusting). The hindi ibang tao
category consists of two levels: pakikipagpalagayang-loob (level of mutual trust) and pakikiisa (level of
fusion, unity and full trust). If we consult Table 1, we see that these levels build upon each other. The progression of relationship between table mates is evident in the quality of relationships expressed in the meals, the kind of food prepared, and even the utensils used. What is most relevant in our discussion is the movement of relationship among partakers from pakikitungo (which depicts the widest interpersonal
distance among table fellows most obviously) to pakikiisa (which shows the closest manifestation of
unity and full trust among partakers). The level of pakikiisa (level of fusion, unity and full trust) is the
level where there is deepest level of interpersonal relationship that recognizes the shared inner identity. The participants consist of people who are very familiar with each other which include extended family members and very close friends. There is no social distance or distinction and there is mutual identification and oneness. In our Filipino meal setting, this means that one can share everyday food, no matter how much one has, and meal participants can dispense with utensils and use one‟s hands in eating. The one previously regarded as “not-one-of-us” gradually moves from being a guest towards becoming a
host and then, finally, even becoming a co-servant at table when the deepest level of solidarity in relationship has been achieved.
Within this complex development of interpersonal relationship from ibang-tao (Outsider Category) to
hindi-ibang-tao (Insider Category) distinctively shown in table-fellowship, a particular value, called hating-kapatid, can be discerned in the insider category, in the level of both pakikipagpalagayang-loob
and pakikiisa (last two columns to the right of Table 1) that is particular among siblings. Hating-kapatid
is literally translated as “divide among siblings,” and its non-literal translation retains this idea, “to divide 20or allocate equally.” It is a compound word composed of hati (division, partition) and kapatid (brother,
sister) with kapatid modifying hati and resulting in a “kind or quality of partitioning or sharing of goods 21expected among brothers and sisters.” Hating-kapatid connotes equal sharing. This is carried out in at
different ways. The most basic is to divide the food in equal portion. Sometimes, “[t]his term refers to the
act of one dividing and the other having first choice regarding the preferred portion. Variations include 22behaviors whereby one forgoes his or her share in favour of whoever needs it more.” This concept is
usually appealed to when there is not enough food to go around and an equal sharing, no matter how 23meagre, is advocated to make sure everyone receives an equal portion. In the same way, this is invoked
in instances of unjust division when participants in the pakikiisa level forget being a kapwa to their table-
fellows and gets more for oneself without thinking about the others (lamang). This is also true in cases of
19 Enriquez, “Kapwa and the Struggle for Justice, Freedom and Dignity,” 3. 20 Paraluman S. Apillera, Basic Tagalog for Foreigners and Non-Tagalogs. Revised and Updated by Yolanda C.
Hernandez (Hongkong: Turtle Publishing, 2007), 194. 21 Dennis T. Gonzales and Edward Mañalac, “Strengthening the Value of Hating-Kapatid: Strengthening the Value
of Eucharistic Sharing” Sanloob: A Philosophical-Theological Journal of Maryhill School of Theology (November
1990:5), 43. 22 Angelica Francisco, “Philanthropy and Nepotism” in Beyond a Western Bioethics: Voices from the Developing
World, Angeles Tan Alora and Josephine M. Lumitao, eds. (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2001),
67-72, here 68. 23 Hating-kapatid can also be invoked involving other non-food goods or properties to be shared but it is mostly used in food and meal context.
absence. Those who are present must think of the absent one in dividing the food and set aside this person‟s share (tira), and not only to satisfy their needs and gather what is left-over (tira-tira). The one
who reminds those involve in the act of division and advocates for this kind of sharing can be the parents or the siblings themselves, or in the case of good friends, anyone among them. When this concept is appealed to, everyone is reminded to think not only of themselves but to remember the most basic principle of having equal share. From this basic premise one can also go beyond and be more generous. Hating-kapatid is apparent (and mutually expected) in the relationship of blood-siblings as well as by people who have come to regard each other as siblings.
The value of hating-kapatid at meals in the pakikiisa level, then, can be an important prism in which to
view the story of the Lord‟s Supper in 1 Cor 11:17-34 and to characterize the actors in the story
particularly in vv. 23-26, 33-34a. To do this, we are hoping that a narrative approach, which is indigenous to the continent and is very common as well in the Philippines, can enlighten our contextual reading of the Lord‟s Supper story in Corinth.
3. Kwentuhan (Story-telling) and 1 Cor 11:17-34
In the Philippines, as in other parts of Asia, story-telling is very common as a means of interpersonal communication, remembering personal and communal stories, and handing on of traditions. It is very probable that when asking logical and analytical questions about the people‟s faith and beliefs, one can 24get a story for an answer. “Where the kwento [story] is still being told, it continues to possess the power
of bringing people together. For the kwento in its disarming simplicity is replete with the symbols and 25values of the race which resonates with the people whenever it is told.”
The sharing of stories permeates many facets of our life. Religious traditions, particularly biblical stories, can be expressed narratively in many ways with a particular fondness for characterization. For example, role-playing is used in retelling (a conflation of) the infancy narratives and the passion narratives. The panunuluyan is a popular way of enacting the search for a dwelling of Mary and Joseph when Jesus was 26about to be born. The pabasa or pasyon, a chanted, non-stop recitation of Jesus‟ passion and death from
all the four gospels set in poetic verse as well as the senakulo, a passion play in the vernacular, are 27common in the country during the Holy Week. Bibliodrama has also gained popularity. In liturgical
celebrations and in occasions of bible-sharing in the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs), story-telling is
24 Teresita B. Obusan, “A Hiyang Approach” in Pamamaraan :Indigenous Knowledge and Evolving Research Paradigms,
Teresita B. Obusan, Angelina R. Enriquez, eds. (Quezon City: Asian Center, 1994), 89-110, here, 93. 25 Ibid., 97-98. 26 An example of the undesirable and ethically questionable example of narrative interpretation concerning difficult texts can include those that have potentially anti-Semitic repercussions which are, oftentimes, not engaged enough in Asia. See for example A.J. Levine, Same Stories, Different Understandings: Jews and Catholics in Conversation.
CBAP Lectures 2004 (Manila: Catholic Biblical Association of the Philippines, 2004). In her article, “A Jewish Reading of the New Testament,” 21-37 she gives as an example the way the “Jews” are characterized in the pasyon
(p. 34) in Rene B. Javellana, Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni Jesucristong Panginoon Natin na Sucat Ipag-alab
nang Puso nang Sinomang Babasa (Quezon City; Ateneo de Manila Press, 1988) which describes the Jews in very
disturbing ways such as “scheming Jews” (882), “ravenous Jews” (1615), “deceiving Jews” (1670, 1965), “deceitful Jews”(711, 2550), “cunning Jews” (1675), “accusing Jews” (1697), “treacherous Jews” (1710, 1938, 2160, 2488), “cruel Jews” (2295), “scoundrel Jews” (2482, 2484), and “criminal Jews” (2494). 27 Bibliodrama has been popularized in the Philippines by the team of Ms. Joy Candelario and Rudy Pöhl according to Arturo M. Bastes, “The Present Trends of the Biblical Apostolate” The ICST Journal 7 (2005): 16-31. On p. 28,
he explains: “This trend is very acceptable to us Filipinos and Asians because of the element of DRAMA, a word
that conotes [sic] action or role-play. The biblical approach is appealing because of the element of playful involvement in biblical texts in order to bring our experiences, our life perspective and context into relationship with the message of the bible. As in other approaches bibliodrama through playing out of biblical stories reveals the close connection between the Word of God and one‟s own life.” See also Rudolph Pöhl, “Dei Verbum Meets Homo
Ludens: Bibliodrama in South-East Asia,” translated by Martin Jäggi BMS and Julian Lock, The Way (2008): 63-75.
also expressed by participants who identify with biblical characters as well as with biblical situations. Liturgical sharing or homilies are also given using folk stories or current events and expounding on the characters involved to serve as a jumping board for a fuller theological exploration. Apart from the oral or enacted narrative biblical interpretations from the grassroots, a vast collection of written works, by Asians and in Asia, is also growing in the biblical academy. Some of these efforts can be considered as part of the indigenization of biblical interpretations in what has come to be regarded as 28nativism and vernacular hermeneutics. Several ways of narrative biblical interpretation have been done
and continue to be done by Asian scholars, both exegetes and non-exegetes, Protestants and Catholics 2930alike. Some of these ways make use of Asian folk stories and from it gather biblical insights. Others
start with the scriptural stories and afterwards relate them to Asian narratives, folk tales and/or current 3132events. There are also attempts that weave their biblical theologizing in a story format. Some works of
Asian exegetes can also use narrative criticism without mentioning the particularity of their Asian 33geographical location. Still others show how specific biblical texts impact their own personal story as an 34Asian whether they are in Asia or not. Likewise, there are other works of narrative scholars, especially
exegetes, who interpret the biblical texts using narrative criticism, with special attention to the characters
28 For a more detailed description and examples of attempts of nativism and vernacular hermeneutics that “celebrate the indigenization of biblical interpretation,” see R.S. Sugirtharajah, The Bible and the Third World: Precolonial,
Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 175-202. 29 In this paper we wish to highlight the contribution of Filipino scholars and we do not mean to give an exhaustive list of Asian biblical scholars who attempt to do narrative biblical readings. 30 See for example the works of Levi V. Oracion, “Theological Reflections on Indarapatra and Sulayman,” East Asia
Journal of Theology, Vol. 3, No. 2 (1985): 213-22. Oracion taught at that time at Union Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines. He retells a folk story from Mindanao and compares it with the biblical themes of creation in Genesis. See also Archie Chi Chung Lee, “Genesis 1 from the Perspective of a Chinese Creation Myth,” in
Understanding Poets and Prophets. Essays in Honour of George Wishart Anderson. Journal for the Study of the Old
Testament. Supplement Series 152, ed. A. Graeme Auld (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 186 – 198 and
“The Chinese Creation Myth of Nu Kua and the Biblical Narrative in Genesis 1-11,” Journal Biblical Interpretation
Vol.2/3 (1994): 312 – 324. 31 See, for example, the way Asian stories and biblical stories play their role in the theologizing of C. S. Song, The
Believing Heart: An Invitation to Story Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1999); Stephen T. Chan, “Narrative,
Story and Storytelling: A Study of C.S. Song‟s Theology of Story” Asia Journal of Theology 12/1 (1998):14-45.
Likewise, see D. Preman Niles, “The Word of God and the People of Asia” in Understanding the Word: Essays in
Honor of Bernhard Anderson. Eds. James T. Butler, Edgar W. Conrad and Ben C. Ollenburger (Sheffieled: JSOT Press, 1985), 281-313 who tells of how Korean theologians like Kim Chi-Ha fused the story of the minjung in Korea
and the story of the minjung in the Bible. 32 One of the best example of this approach is found in Carlos Abesamis, Backpack of A Jesus-Seeker: … Following
in the Footsteps of the Original Jesus, available from http://www.lst.edu/prof/cabesamis/backpack%201.htm
(accessed 01 April 2009). Another form of story-telling is seen in the example of Nirmala Suresh‟ Yesu Maakavyam
or “The Greatest Epic on Jesus” described in A. Anthony Cruz, “Jesus Christ in Tamil Epic Literature” Jeevadhara
XXXVIII (2008): 260-270. 33 Some examples from the Philippines are found in Niceta M. Vargas, “Roles of Men and Women in the Johannine
Community” in The Roles of Women and Men in Scriptures in the Context of Family, Church and Society: Proceedings of the Third Annual Convention (Manila: Catholic Biblical Association of the Philippines, 2002), 28-69; Miriam R. Alejandrino, “The Poor and the Marginalized in the Gospel of John” in Biblical Responses to the Poor
and Marginalized: Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Convention (Manila: Catholic Biblical Association of the
Philippines, 2006), 50-61. Both of these articles do not explicitly state the Asian context in which they do their narrative interpretation of the text. 34 See for example Lai-Ling Ngan, “Bitter Melon, Bitter Delight: Reading Jeremiah Reading Me” available from http://www.jcu.edu/bible/cba/FHS/Archive/2006Ngan.doc (accessed 15 April 2009).
involved, vis-à-vis a particular concern in view of Asia‟s cultures, religions and its many people who live 35in poverty.
It is important that there is an explicit recognition of the many ways of narrative interpretation of the Bible in Asia particularly in the Philippine setting. While most of these are carried out in the practical level, there is also a need to articulate that narrative biblical interpretation is an indigenous method that needs to be fostered in the continent so that it contributes to the building up of Asian theologies 36particularly in the Philippines. Asian theologians, whether in the continent or not, advocate conscious efforts to develop and utilize these indigenous manners in theologizing, in actualizing the biblical 37message, and in articulating Asian theologies. The Federation of Asian Bishops‟ Conferences supports
this initiative and has articulated in some of its documents and workshops the need to continuously 38harness narrative approaches in biblical interpretation. This has been endorsed by the Synod of Bishops 3940for Asia in 1998 which has been echoed in the post-synodal Vatican document and reaffirmed by 41subsequent official and continent-wide reflections in Asia. It is from this perspective that we believe
contributing to a narrative biblical interpretation in the Philippines will be a worthy endeavour.
35 See for example, Bienvenido Q. Baisas, “From Marginalization to Inclusion: A Renewed Re-Reading of the
Syrophoenician Woman of Mark 7:24-31a” in Biblical Responses to the Poor and Marginalized: Proceedings of the
Seventh Annual Convention (Manila: Catholic Biblical Association of the Philippines, 2006), 62-77 especially 70-73 whose work considers the stand point of interreligious dialogue in Asia. Likewise, in view of the Philippine context, see Ma. Marilou S. Ibita, “Dining With Jesus in the Third Gospel: Celebrating Eucharist in the Third World,” East
Asian Pastoral Review, Vol. 42/3 (2005): 249-261. 36 For a concise treatment of the encouragement of articulating narrative biblical interpretation in Asia, see our forthcoming contribution, Ma. Marilou S. Ibita, “Fostering Narrative Approaches in Asia: The Primary Task of Explicit Recognition” in East Asian Pastoral Review 46 (2009). 37 See for example, Women‟s Concern Unit, Reading the Bible as Asian Women (Singapore: CCA) reviewed in
1987 by Ranjini Rebera (Singapore) in Asian Journal Theology 1:2 (1987): 564-565; Jose Mario C; Francisco, “The
Mediating Role of Narrative in Interreligious Dialogue: Implications and Illustrations from the Philippine Context”
East Asian Pastoral Review 41/2 (2004) available from http://eapi.admu.edu.ph/eapr004/eapr004.htm (accessed 17
September 2009); Edgar G. Javier, SVD “Memory, Presence and Prophecy: A Historical Look at the Story of Jesus” The ICST Journal (2007/9): 31-35. 38 In particular, see Jacob Theckanath, “The Asian Image Of Jesus: Theological, Biblical, Catechetical & Liturgical Renewal,” available from http://www.ucanews.com/html/fabc-papers/fabc-92q.htm (accessed 27 March 2009).This
paper was made for the discussion of the theme: "A Renewed Church in Asia: A Mission of Love and Service." Information The Seventh Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, held in January 3-12, 2000 in Bangkok, Samphran, Thailand. Likewise, FABC Paper No. 92n: Seventh Plenary Assembly: Workshop Discussion Guide Opening Paths To Life Through Education by Lourdes J. Custodio, “Towards the Formation of
Christian Values in Asia” and Luc Van Looy, SDB “Youth Ministry in Asia” available from
http://www.ucanews.com/html/fabc-papers/fabc-92n.htm (accessed 27 March 2009); Maria Ko, “Scripture” in
James H. Kroeger, M.M., FABC Papers No.115: Inculturation in Asia: Directions, Initiatives, and Options available from http://www.ucanews.com/html/fabc-papers/fabc-115.htm (accessed 15 April 2009). 39 See also Synod of Bishops, “Jesus Christ the Saviour and His Mission of Love and Service in Asia:"...That They May Have Life, and Have It Abundantly" (Jn 10:10). Instrumentum Laboris No. 27” which states “… one of many
ways of doing this, in a particularly Asiatic manner, would be through the use of stories and parables coming from the Bible.” available from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20021998_asia-
instrlabor_en.html (accessed 15 April 2009). 40 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation: Ecclesia in Asia, No. 20 available from
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_06111999_ecclesia-in-asia_en.html (accessed 15 April 2009): “In general, narrative methods akin to Asian cultural forms are to be
preferred. In fact, the proclamation of Jesus Christ can most effectively be made by narrating his story, as the Gospels do”. 41 See FABC Papers, No. 95, “A Renewed Church in Asia: Pastoral Directions for a New Decade. A Pastoral Report of Seventh Plenary Assembly, Sanphran, Thailand. January 2000,” under the section “A Pastoral Vision for This
These developments coincide with the flourishing of narrative criticism in academic circles. While it has been obviously helpful in interpreting the stories in the Bible (e. g., Torah, Gospels, Acts), the New 42 This parallel growth in the Testament letters, particularly those of Paul are now also studied in this light.
practice and appreciation of narrative biblical interpretation influenced our present option in engaging the story of the Lord‟s Supper in Corinth using Norman R. Petersen‟s method in his above mentioned book
Rediscovering Paul: Philemon and the Sociology of Paul‟s Narrative World. More specifically, though,
we find it interesting to explore Paul‟s appeal to the story of the Lord‟s farewell meal in 1 Cor 11:23-26 in
correcting the problems in Corinth.
This openness to narrative approaches in biblical interpretation, particularly the focus on characterization, is enhanced even more in our life-context by the very deep influence of meal-sharing in our culture. The rich mixture of story-telling and table-fellowship is a significant part of the religious, cultural and social 43setting of the Filipinos particularly lowland Filipino Christian and their kapwa-centeredness. From this
perspective, we believe that using a narrative approach which is sensitive to characterization can facilitate our contextual study of 1 Cor 11:17-34 from the lens of lowland Filipino meal culture which can, in turn, help in harnessing values that aids in responding to the issue of hunger.
The main issue, then, where the three aspects of our life-context converge and can have a conversation with the story that we find in 1 Cor 11:17-34 is found in Paul‟s characterization of the main actors in this
episode which include both the actors (Corinthians, the Lord, and himself) as well as the non-human characters (the kuriako.n dei/pnon and i;dion dei/pnon)) How does Paul link
hunger and the kuriako.n dei/pnon (vv. 17-22)? How does he use the foundational story
of the Lord‟s farewell meal in vv. 23-26, and the command for a concrete change in the meal
Decade: Recommendations of the Workshops of the Plenary Assembly: A Synopsis” available from
http://www.ucanews.com/html/fabc-papers/fabc-95.htm (accessed 23 July 2008) where the participants of the FABC
workshops declared: “The Asian image of Jesus demands a shift in our pedagogy. The evocative pedagogy used by the (Asian) Jesus should be preferred to the doctrinal and abstract. Stories, images, symbols, parables, myths, chanting of sacred texts etc., should become the primary medium, as is emphasized in Ecclesia in Asia (20), with a clear focus on the experience of life and of God. In this connection, the story of Jesus and the image etched in those stories should get priority. Then, Jesus' God-centered (or Abba-centered) and kingdom-centered life and ministry will become attractive to the Asian heart, in which the inner-religious and the socio-cultural dialogue will better converge.” Likewise, see The Message of the First Asian Mission Congress, “Telling the Story of Jesus in Asia” East Asian Pastoral Review 44/3 (2007) available from http://eapi.admu.edu.ph/eapr007/eapr007.htm (accessed 17
September 2009). 42 In view of the letters of Paul, which is still mostly confined in Anglo-Saxon academic circles, see the works of Richard Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians3:1-4:11
(Chico, CA: Scholars, 1983); Norman Petersen, Rediscovering Paul: Philemon and the Sociology of Paul‟s
Narrative World. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1985; Sylvia Keesmaat , Paul and His Story: (Re)interpreting the
Exodus Tradition JSNT SS 181 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999); Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity:
Paul‟s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids, MI/ Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2001); Bruce
Longenecker, ed. Narrative Dynamics in Paul: A Critical Assessment (Louisville, KY/London: Westminster John
Knox, 2002; A. Katherine Grieb, The Story of Romans (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2003); Richard B. Hays, “Is Paul‟s Gospel Narratable?” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 27.2 (2004) available from
http://jnt.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/27/2/217 (accessed 10 February 2009); Richard B. Hays “Christ Died
for the Ungodly: Narrative Soteriology in Paul?” Horizons in Biblical Theology (2004): 48-68; Sylvia C. Keesmat,
“Crucified Lord or Conquering Saviour: Whose Story of Salvation,” Horizons in Biblical Theology, Vol 26 (2004):
69-93; Michael J. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters (Grand Rapids, MI/ Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2004); Jacob W. Elias, Remember the Future: The Pastoral
Theology of Paul the Apostle (Scottdale, PA/Waterloo, ON: Herald, 2006) to name a few. Likewise, see Robert J. Webb, “The Use of 'Story' in the Letter of Jude” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 31/1 (2008): 53-87. 43 See above, n. 2, 15, 16 and 17. See also Dionisio M. Miranda, Loob: The Filipino Within (Manila: Divine Word,
1989), 108-114 where he expounds on kapwa as a moral ideal and ethical category.