On this Wednesday in the third week of Lent, we hear from Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth:
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists’, and that ‘there is no God but one.’ Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. ‘Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 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. (1 Cor. 8:1-13).
Bishop N.T Wright frames the question:
[A]lmost all the meat available in a city like Corinth would have been offered at some shrine or other; and idol-temples served not only as butcher's shops but also as restaurants. To avoid idol meat altogether might, then, mean de facto vegetarianism (an option forced on some in any case by economic circumstances). For a Jew, facing this question would pose quite sharply the options we just noted. One major Jewish position regarded pagan worship as idolatry, and insisted that genuine monotheists must not flirt with it. Another major Jewish tradition said that idols were non-existent and irrelevant, and that the one creator God claimed as his own all that idols have usurped. This second way may well have been helped by the kind of speculative Jewish gnosis according to which one's relationship to the one true God elevated one above the problems of the pagan world. The first way could lead to dualism, the second to assimilation. Paul carves out a way which avoids both.
N.T. Wright, One God, One Lord, One People: Incarnational Christology for a Church in a Pagan Environment.
Paul’s response is rooted in the Shema Israel, “Hear o Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone." N.T Wright reasons that the pagan pantheon is not irrelevant. It must be confronted. One cannot retreat from paganism, just as one must not assimilate. One must instead worship the true God, the one whom paganism parodies. And for Paul this true God is revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. It means, clearly, that love and concern for other members of the community is to be placed ahead of all attempts at personal self-realization. Paul spells this out in terms precisely of Jesus who is God and who died on the cross. For Paul, Jesus’ crucifixion is not simply about attaining individual salvation; rather, it means the remaking of the community of the people of God into a community that is given such security in the love of the true God that it is able to forgo all human privileges and rights to which it might otherwise lay claim. Id.
Let us pray: Gracious and living God, you alone are God. In you we live and move and have our being. Soften us that we may stop trying to put ourselves first, that we put aside our arrogance, and remember that we are a people that have been remade into a new creation, and that we are called to make that known to the world.
Please keep Bishop Doyle and his family in your prayers as he undergoes surgery, and for a quick and full recovery.
Lenten Series: Reconciliation, today at 6PM at Trinity with Fr. Peter and Br. Michael of Holy Cross Monastery as our speakers.
Please remember everyone on our Prayer List.
Your servant in Christ,
Fr. Chester J. Makowski+
St. Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church
Galveston, Texas 77550