Immersed in Christ: September 10, 2020
Thursday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
The Responsorial (Psalm 139) asks for guidance by a divine, not human standard: “Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.”
In 1 Corinthians 8:1-24 Paul shows a true sense of stewardship with regard to the Christian community. His primary concern is the good of others, what “upbuilds” the community. Other issues cede priority to this. So when people had scruples about eating meat previously sacrificed to idols, because it could be seen as participation in pagan sacrifices, Paul gives one answer in theory and another in practice.
In theory, he says, there is no problem with eating the sacrificed meat as such, provided one has “knowledge” of the one true God and is aware that all other gods are “really nothing.” If one’s faith is strong on this point, there is no problem. In theory. Theologically.
But in the practical, real-life situation, not everyone has sufficient clarity about this. Some who are “weak” — whether in faith or in knowledge — might eat out of conformity even though they see it as participation in an idolatrous ritual. Then they would be guilty of sin because they believe it is sin. So in practice, Paul says, “Be ruled by love.” Take care of your neighbor like a good steward who takes responsibility for the well-being of all. Do only what will ‘build up.” Paul says, “If food causes my brother or sister to sin, I will never eat meat again!”
This is a current problem in the Church. There are people who have every right, theologically, to receive Communion, but who are prohibited for fear of what others, less deeply or precisely informed about theology, Catholic law, or the state of the receiver’s conscience, might think about it. We fear “scandal,” which really means something that “causes a brother or sister to sin” or to lower their ideals, but is frequently misunderstood as anything that “shocks.” A prudent and faithful steward will weigh each situation and encourage whatever is for the greater good of all. This does not mean, however, that we let the narrowness of the “Pharisee party” in every parish determine pastoral policy. The conscientious stewards, in both clergy and laity, both those with authority and those with the sometimes greater power of influence, will pray for light to follow the perennial teaching and permanent tradition of the Church, not the fears and compulsions of contemporary pressure groups: “Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
In Luke 6:27-38 Jesus makes it clear that what “builds up” the Church is love. That sounds obvious until we think about how often we make decisions based on some other value — a good one — without reflecting on whether it is really the loving thing to do — especially if we measure love by Jesus’ standard: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Jesus says not to react to hatred, insults, mistreatment, injustice, exploitation or non-payment of debts by letting any of these motivate anything. Like the “idols” Paul spoke of, they are “really nothing.” Don’t sacrifice anything, especially love, at their altar. Our God defines himself as love, and so what is specifically Christian is to help sinners, enemies, the ungrateful and those who can do nothing for us in return. That is to be a “faithful steward” for Christ.
Initiative: Be a faithful steward. Keep your eye on the finish line.