So the familiar refrain, “take me to your leader,” whether reporters used those exact words or not, fell on, confused ears. And the worker-volunteers, the protesters, could only answer, it’s “the people,” or, “the youth,” who are in charge, or, “all of us are participating in this.” Another part of the starfish-like organization was in a home on the fringe of Tahrir Square, where a group of tech-savvy young Egyptians, including a Google executive Wael Ghonim, contributed their social networking know-how.
Everyone played their part, but no one person was “the leader” of this protest-movement. I kept thinking it would turn out to be Mohamed El Baradei, the Nobel laureate, who would be named their leader. But it wasn’t him, anymore than it was the Google organizer, Ghonim, or Ahmed Maher, a prominent youth activist, or the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet each played a role, each “planted or watered,” to use St Paul’s analogy, and the spirit and resolve of the movement continued to strengthen and grow. Outside pressure from around the world also contributed, no doubt, until finally, in a bloodless coup, the starfish-movement received the news that the spiders head had been metaphorically cut off. President Mubarek had just stepped down, his vice president announced. And, the celebration began!
Paul’s church in Corinth, considering they could not use Facebook and Twitter, made use of a starfish, home-made organization too. Paul preached in the town square, and they met in people’s homes for worship and instruction. They were drawn by word of mouth, and the compelling message of the new thing God was doing in Christ Jesus, who offered salvation to all, even to Greeks, not just Jews, both male and female, slave, as equally as free, all were welcome. But who was the head of the movement? Who was in charge? Paul’s home-made masking tape ID would have said preacher, or evangelist. But he never intended to stay and accept a call to be their Pastor. Paul had empowered them all to share the ministry.
And the Corinthians had a variety of gifts, which they were proud of. They had any number of talents in their thriving metropolis. So why did factions and camps form in the Corinthian church? Paul says, basically, that they reverted to societies’ unspiritual ways: “brothers and sisters,” he said, “I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh.” They grew to desire recognition for their worldly wisdom, which they were so proud of, rather than use their talents for the good of the whole movement of the church. When Apollos, a highly gifted speaker, arrived in Corinth after Paul’s 18 month tenure had ended, he gathered a very strong following too. Whether Apollos encouraged the division that grew or not, is difficult to know. But Paul’s point is, when it comes to proclaiming the gospel it doesn’t matter who is the more mesmerizing orator – which even Paul acknowledged was Apollos – but the gospel message, preached by either of them, is the same, and points to the same Jesus the Christ. Just as we know that parents, for personal reasons, may favor or like one child over another, yet they dare not let their love for them, their care, respect, and nurture for their children, be divided other than equally, and to the best of their ability, which is the daily hard work of a parent. Likewise, we all have our favorite pastors in the history of a congregation, but we have to work, as best we can, with the pastor, or pastoral team, that is presently under call.
So, Paul’s metaphor of the Corinthians as infants, or babies, is pointed indeed! He claims he needs to feed them with mother’s milk, and that they are not capable of solid food yet: “[Since] I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food…” Why? Because they quarrel over the leadership of Apollos vs. Paul, and so effectively cut themselves off as members of the Body of Christ, acting merely as other rivalrous and inconsiderate humans, not as the community of Christ. When they are desirous to get their way, to stake out a claim based on their own personal interests, these jealousies look like ‘infantile outbursts’ to Paul.
We see this in our culture all the time, most recently in our political leaders, when the parties dig in ideologically, exaggerating their differences, and encouraging factions and divisions, in a negative spirit that seeks to dominate the other. But who has a monopoly on the truth? Who can afford not to listen and discern the many other possibilities and opinions that make-up the bigger picture, we cannot possibly bring into focus all by ourselves?
Paul’s recipe for the ‘young co-workers in the gospel he is nursing’ is to remind them how spiritual growth happens. Growth in numbers is not as important to Paul, as growth in the maturity of faith! Paul employs the metaphor of growing plants or crops in the field. “I planted,” he says, “Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
Paul defines both himself and Apollos as deacons in the church, diakonoi, or servants, and fellow workers, for the good of all – another masking-tape badge he wore. Later, deacons would become an official title and position in the church, but Paul simply intends to model for the Corinthians what each of them is called to do. Each of them is important and necessary in the life of the congregation, but only God can give the growth that leads to the best gift of all, the gift of life and grace.
And amazing thing happened in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, in the days of Protest. It was said that a group of Coptic Christians took to forming a circle around those Muslims who were observing the call to prayer. In effect, they created a sanctuary, a safe worship space, for them to practice their faith. So in the movement for the larger Egyptian society to achieve freedom, and a more democratic and just form of government, two distinct religions worked together, respecting their differences. Together, they offered their individual gifts – planting and watering – so that, God could grow and liberate all of them.