Cathedral News, January 28, 2017

 
 
 

When it comes to Paul, there’s always more than ‘meats’ the eye!

As we continue our journey through Epiphany, once again we encounter Paul addressing the concerns of the young Christian community in Corinth who are doing their best as they struggle to follow their star toward the Incarnation.

One of the differences between Jesus and Paul is that Jesus asks questions without providing answers. A good rabbi answers a question with a question. It makes for endless conversation, facet-turning and fresh perspectives. Paul however, is like Alex Trebek on Jeopardy who provides us with the answers and leaves us to guess what the question is.

On the surface, it seems that the issue at hand is whether or not it’s OK to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols (the Romans asked the same question, by the way). Some who seemed to be very sure in their faith had no hesitation eating the meat whereas others who were less confident had serious difficulty separating their Christian faith from pagan sacrifices. Those who were supposedly more confident (“puffed up” Paul called it) said they know that idols aren’t real and therefore, since they have a right to eat the meat they will do so, and without regard for others. Paul agrees that idols aren’t real however he argues against any kind of legalism that puts rules first – rules for the sake of rules; principles before responsibilities, if you will. The thematic overtones here are strikingly similar to our current political and moral debates.

As Episcopalians, we ride the via media and therefore take on a more flexible approach to some biblical rules. For example, we don’t follow the Levirate rule that requires a man to marry his brother’s widow, and we don’t pluck out our eyes when we see something offensive. But we have thrown out the baby with the bath water? Because what Paul is talking about here is the responsibility that comes with Christian freedom. Rules make things easy – they tell us what to wear, how to act and what to eat or not to eat. However, the freedom that Christ brings, the liberty born of God’s love for us, is more challenging to live out. This reading from Corinthians is about how we exercise that freedom. Do we arrogantly assert our knowledge at the expense of our ethical responsibilities?

Cain asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And Jesus responds, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Christ contradicts Cain and says in effect, ‘Yes, you are your brother’s and your sister’s keeper.’ Christ is clearly more interested in our loving relationships to one another than in legalistic principles.

Paul is underscoring Jesus’ message of love: that our relationships are more important than our rules. Our primary concern should be the love we are charged to share and not getting “puffed up” so that we forget about our neighbors’ needs.

Read the rest of the announcements.