Thursday, January 29, 2015

by example

At the moment the lectionary has us reading through 1st Corinthians Sunday by Sunday. This comes round every three years in the lectionary cycle, and this is the year. 

Although scholars seem to prefer Romans as the most brilliant, mature and theological of Paul's writings, I like 1st Corinthians for sensible things, practical guidance that Paul tells us all through it. But sometimes, especially when read out of context, Paul can be confusing and even profoundly boring. 

In the 1st Corinthians 8:1-13 reading for Sunday, Paul tells us that it may be a sin to do perfectly harmless things if you know that doing them will scandalize people who are not as sophisticated and modern as you consider yourself to be. The issue Paul uses is meat. 

In the days of the Roman Empire, there was no Publix or Winn-Dixie to buy groceries: the meat that people bought in the marketplace to take home for supper had been brought to market from altars where the animal had been slaughtered as a sacrifice to some god, some idol or other. Sacrificed and then sold in the marketplace. That was a custom in that pagan society, and it was good and profitable business. Some Christians, former pagans who understood the nature of such sacrifice, were saying that it was a sin to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, because to eat the meat was to acknowledge the sacrifice and worship the god, the idol. Paul says it’s harmless, meaningless to eat the meat, because the idol is nonexistent, not a god at all, only the Lord is God; so it really doesn't matter if you eat that meat. 

But Paul goes on to say that there are many people who believe that you must not eat the meat because if you do you are worshiping the idol; and to them, if you are a Christian and eat the meat anyway, to them it means you are telling people that it's OK to worship that idol as well as worshiping the One God and Father of Jesus Christ. 

Again. It was a pagan society in which many gods were worshiped, and one means of worship was to take an animal to the sacrificial altar and have it slaughtered in sacrifice to the idol god. Paul says that although eating that meat is meaningless, you may mislead people, confuse them, scandalize them, cause them great anguish, and even turn them away from Christ, and that's a sin.That's what the issue is all about here in thie Second Reading for next Sunday.

It's a lesson worth bringing into modern life. We think we are so sophisticated that "anything goes" and nothing is a sin, and in doing that we risk misleading people who are more naive and innocent. We may stir up anguish, hatred and divisions in the church, among the faithful, in the family and home, among those who trust us and follow us through life. Although we no longer sacrifice to idols as did the pagans, we have our own indulgences and excesses, which may be the same thing. Our god, our idol, is that on which we spend our time and money. 

No one is so insignificant but that someone is following them and going their way, doing what they do, accepting their values, if for no other reason than that they know no other way to go. 


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