6th SUNDAY (B) February 14, 2021
Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32; I Corinthians 10: 31-11:1; Mark 1: 40-45
by Jude Siciliano, OP
I have to confess as a preacher I tend to skip over the Sunday second readings. They are almost always taken from the letters the apostles, especially Paul, wrote to the early Christian communities and are among the earliest written proclamations of the good news. But since they lack the narrative characteristics of the Gospels they don’t “grab” listeners the way gospel stories do. So, we preachers tend not to draw on them for our preaching but, for the most part, concentrate on the gospel passage, or a vivid narrative from the first reading, the Hebrew Scriptures. So, in this edition I thought I would focus on our second reading from 1 Corinthians. First some background.
Corinth was the capital of the Roman province Achaia. It was a thriving center of commerce, learning, athletic contests and pagan shrines. It was a city that offered Paul numerous opportunities to preach and teach about Jesus to the sophisticated Corinthians. I Corinthians confirms what we know from our own experience: cultural and political values of a society can influence our ways of living our Christian beliefs. Like the Corinthians our secular values creep into our church life and rip and tear at our unity and holiness. Being a good citizen does not always flow over to our being good Christians. In his two letters to the Corinthians Paul struggles against how divisive the values of the world can be on the believing community.
Our passage today, taken from chapter 10, is from a section of the letter where Paul has commented on food and drink. When Christians were invited to the homes of non-Christians they faced a dilemma: could they eat the food placed before them that had been offered on altars to the pagan gods? Was it permissible to eat meat offered to a god they knew didn’t exist?
Paul’s concern wasn’t
about the “enlightened Christians” who would not have a problem eating the food,
but about the more scrupulous Christians in the community. For Paul the food was
not the issue, but he was concerned about the effects eating it would have on
others. The Corinthian Christians must be sensitive to the scruples of others
and also set an example for their pagan neighbors.
As children we knew our Jewish neighbors weren’t permitted to eat pork or shellfish. We did and thought they were missing good food we ate regularly – like bacon and eggs. But we admired their eating customs because they signaled to us the devotion and observance our Jewish friends had to their faith. We did not eat meat on Friday, but that was only once a week.
From the issue over food Paul draws principles that can and should be applied elsewhere. He concluded that idols meant nothing, since the gods they represented did not exist. So Christians could eat the food, but not if doing so scandalizes someone in the Christian community (I Cor 8: 1-13; 10:23-29). What Paul said about eating food sacrificed in pagan worship is foreign to us. But note the principle Paul draws: everything that is permissible may not be edifying. Sometimes we have to renounce our “lighted principles” out of respect for others. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense....”
Paul counsels us that we give glory to God when we serve one another and seek unity among God’s people. God is not glorified if my choices cause wrangling and division in the community. If fact, such behavior is a negative witness to those who may be young in the faith, or considering joining the community. Paul felt free to eat food sacrificed to idols, but, if by doing so, others would be offended, he would abstain.
Paul’s principle for behavior is, “do everything for the glory of God,” and, “please everyone in every way.” He is advising the Corinthian Christians to be careful that we do not give offense, “please everyone.” Our faith has its interior practices – prayer, meditation, study, etc. It also has exterior forms which give witness to what we believe and the One to whom we give our lives. Paul gives us cause to reflect. We ought to be concerned that all we do and say gives glory to God. If we do not consider the example our behavior gives we can be an obstacle to others coming to know Christ. Our primary concern is for the well-being of others, even over our personal interest. It is about more than table customs and manners. All we Christians do and say should show the life of Christ shining through our daily lives and reflect sensitivity to the consciences of others.
Paul concludes saying, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” That sounds bold doesn’t it? But people can imitate Paul because his behavior isn’t based on himself but because he is an “imitator of Christ.” He does not just mean that his ethics follow Christ’s teachings. Rather, his whole life imitates what Christ has shown us by his humility and acceptance of death for our sake (Phil. 2:6-11). That’s the pattern Christ has set in Paul’s life and so his life manifests not himself, but the life of Christ.
Paul uses his own behavior to illustrate what he is saying, “...just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit, but that of the many, that they may be saved." Christ did not give up on his disciples who were slow coming to understanding his message. Paul is implying that we need to do the same with those who are still in the early stages of their faith, or are considering whether or not to join us in following Christ and his way.
For the past several weeks we have had sequential readings from I Corinthians. During this pandemic some people say that with limited mobility they find they have had a little more time to read and meditate. Today’s passage from comes from a summary section of the letter. If we have not done it before, we might try reading the entire letter in its totality, even in one sitting. When we do we will get an overview of what characterized the Corinthian church, its strengths, flaws and discover the similarities with our own church community and discover how Paul responded to the needs before him. Why not put some time aside to do that? As we read the letter we will hear Paul’s call to more authentic Christian living and the challenge to us modern Christians to give witness to our world.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: