Building Up the Community (Feb. 15, 2015)

Sunday’s Second Reading from I Corinthians has an interesting background, which is quite applicable to us today. Just before these verses, Paul had been addressing a problem that conflicted the Corinthian Church: should we eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols?

Much of the meat available for purchase or consumption came from animals sacrificed to an idol. Often, dinner parties took place in temple halls, because not everybody had a house big enough to host a sizable party. Many of Paul’s converts would have been members of extended families who were still adherents of the many gods worshiped in first century Greece, and who would naturally be a part of family celebrations. Should Christians join in the party? And should they eat the meat that was the foundation of the feast?

The Corinthian Christian community was divided on what to do. Some, whom we might call “progressives”, argued that the so-called gods were mere human creations and had no actual existence. Therefore meat sacrificed to these non-gods was no different from meat butchered in the ordinary way. It could be enjoyed with impunity. By contrast, others whom we might call “traditionalists,” weren’t so sure and argued that, at very least, eating such meat give a bad example and possibly flirted with something akin to devil worship.

Paul came down on the side of the “progressives”, but he very much disagreed with their tactics. They insisted on their right to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul, on the other hand, stresses that if eating such meat scandalized others, then it shouldn’t be done. He said that focusing on individual rights was wrong. The focus instead had to be on what built up the community. In other words, what would exercising my rights do to my brothers and sisters in Christ.

The verses you’ll hear Sunday are directed to the “traditionalists.” Don’t go looking for trouble, he tells them. If you’re at a family feast and you’re served meat, don’t ask where it came from. Just enjoy the party. Do it for the glory of God. For both groups, the solution is to think and act first and foremost for others. Don’t force your rights on others; don’t parade your scruples and lay guilt trips on others.

Do we see any applicability to the Church today? To society?

Be God’s smile for someone today!

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