“But when you thus sin against members of your family and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”
Early in the Christian movement, there was a big fight about whether followers of Christ could eat food that had been sacrificed to idols. Each city, state and even some families in the Greco-Roman world that Paul was writing to in his letters to the Corinthians had a patron god to whom they would offer sacrifices in hopes of that god helping them in different ways. In some cases, citizens (whether Christian or not) were required to make sacrifices to these gods or be deemed treasonous. So early Christians were torn about whether it was acceptable to eat the meat that had previously been offered to these idols. On the one hand, some followers of Christ knew the idols weren’t real and that the food sacrificed to them could not harm a faithful Christian, so they would eat the food. On the other hand, some followers of Christ still could not grasp that the gods were powerless in comparison to the God of Jesus, the Creator of the universe, so they would refuse the food because they thought these gods had power.
The community became torn between two responses to this issue. People on one side of the matter demonized the people on the other side, calling them unChristian and questioning the authenticity of their faith. Paul brilliantly brought this back to loving, Christian community. He drew their attention to the fact that as Christians, we are called to look out for one another. If someone among us is struggling with something, as Christian community, we are called to help them. Love for our neighbors, for our community, is the ultimate criterion that should guide our actions.
In our time today, there may not be food sacrificed to idols, tempting some Christ followers. But, we do have our fair share of issues and beliefs that have the potential to tear the community in two. If we take this advice from Paul, we will seek to care for the ones who might still be figuring out their faith. We are called to have a deep concern for the things that believers among us might not yet understand the complexities of belief and action. This doesn’t mean we are called to change their minds. It means we need to make room for those in our community who is still learning and discovering God’s love through Christ.
On our Lenten journey, we are called to consider our own relationships with God. We are also to reflect on the ways that our individual lives have impacted the community of God. How have we made room for others in our community who might believe differently or act differently? How might we need to repent of our shortcomings in the community?
God, it is you that teaches us what relationships are about. In your very being, you are relational and you dance in the Triune dance of love. You have made us to be relational too. Guide us as we learn to care for our community of faith and for those who might be different from us. Amen.