The Apostle Paul’s responses to the concerns of the people of Corinth are remarkable pieces of writing. They give us a glimpse into the life and circumstances of both Paul and an early Christian community. This is important and useful because though we are separated by 2,000 years or so, we are still members of that same Church; knowing where we came from is important to thinking about how we live today. Perhaps the more remarkable part about Paul’s writing here is that the concerns they have raised, to which Paul is responding, are conversations that our Christian communities continue to have today. The place is different, the era is different, the technology is different, but we are still worried about and struggling with the same human issues.
In the portion of 1 Corinthians assigned for this Sunday coming, Paul is addressing the question of whether or not Christians can eat the meat that is used in temple sacrifices to other Gods. This is an important question because those temple sacrifices and the feasts that followed were major social events in the first-century Mediterranean world. They were probably a lot of fun and the Christians in Corinth didn’t want to be grumpy neighbours who never went to the block party, but they were concerned about what participating in another religion’s rituals meant for their relationship with God.
Paul’s response is not the simple yes or no that they were probably expecting and hoping for. It’s also not a call to think carefully about what eating the food might do to the one eating, either. Instead, Paul wants the Christians of Corinth to think of how eating the meat from sacrifices might impact other people who see them eating it. Paul tells the Corinthians that if they eat the meat knowing that it’s just meat and they aren’t worshipping another god by doing so, it’s probably not going to hurt them. But what if another Christians sees them who doesn’t understand so well and they think that Christians are participating in the worship of other gods and that this is good, acceptable practice? Now we’re in trouble because the example of the people with greater understanding has led someone else into a very sticky situation.
We are responsible for what we teach one another about life in Christ. We are responsible to help one another understand how to be Christians. Remember the promise we make at every baptism: “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this person in their life in Christ?” The response is always an enthusiastic “We will, with God’s help!” All in your power. That’s a tall order. That means helping one another, working together, and teaching one another about being a Christian including by setting good examples and being clear about the example we’re setting. Paul is so concerned about misunderstandings that he finishes this section by saying, about people who may misunderstand the eating of meat from the temples, “Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.”
Paul would sooner give up meat forever than take a chance that someone seeing him eat it would misunderstand their relationship with Christ. What does this call to self-sacrifice look like for the sake of others look like today, in Canada in 2021? We’ve heard a lot this past year about self-sacrifice for the sake of others in the advice about the COVID-19 pandemic. Wearing a mask, staying home when possible, giving up gathering with friends and family, gathering in our church buildings to worship… These are all sacrifices that we make for the sake of one another and are forefront in our minds right now.
What else would Paul suggest we look at today that might be leading others astray or, perhaps worse, directly hurting another? What is the real, human cost of disposable fashion? What does it cost the world and all of us to fill shops and homes with single-use plastic bottles? Should we buy cheap goods from companies that treat workers inhumanely and exploit the marginalized and disadvantaged? There are a thousand other examples and the answers will not be the same for every one of us in every time and place. But, every one of us is called to ask ourselves whether our actions are worthy of those who witness them. Can we show Christ to the world? Do those who see us see Christ? We will and they will, with God’s help.
Be safe, be healthy, and be blessings in the world.
Written for the Parish of Holy Trinity, Winnipeg.