Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
Sermon starts at 15:10 in the recording
Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Afterthoughts: Seeing and Not Naming
Last Sunday’s Gospel reading had a demon possessed man in synagogue.
An oddity for sure.
It led me to ask many questions,
both about the synagogue and about Jesus.
Why was the man there?
Had he been attending the synagogue regularly?
Did no one notice that he was possessed?
What made meeting Jesus different than what the man had previously experienced?
What did Jesus possess that the others in the Capernaum synagogue did not?
Many of these thoughts were brought up in Sunday’s sermon.
This revelation (after all, we are in epiphany) of Jesus showed us:
· His authority.
In understanding the Holy Scriptures.
· His power.
In making relationships right.
· His resistance to being bullied.
He insisted on having good boundaries with those that would try to name Him.
· His desire that everyone be seen.
A compassionate response to those around Him.
The result of all of this is that Jesus has come to overturn the oppressive systems and sensibilities in our communities.
· The desire to maintain power over others.
· The abuse of lording authority.
· The use of bullying relationship tactics.
· The arrogance of not seeing those around us.
On Sunday, I was asked a question about the 2nd reading on Sunday from 1 Corinthians chapter 8.
Someone was trying to figure it out.
It seemed odd in a different way than the Gospel reading.
At first glance it seems odd and unrelated to Jesus’ mission to change the systems and sensibilities that oppress us.
While it is odd
(mostly because we don’t live in that culture at that time),
It is related to the Gospel’s call.
Let’s take a look.
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 Corinthians 8:1-13
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
As simple as this phrase seems,
it can be confusing.
What does it mean?
Well, that depends who is saying it and who it is being said to.
The church at Corinth was an interesting place.
It had a reputation.
When Plato referred to a prostitute,
he used the expression “Corinthian Girl.”
The temple in the city dedicated to Aphrodite employed thousands of temple prostitutes.
Pagan ceremonies were common place and vulgarities abounded.
So when Christianity came around, the new Christians had to reconcile their faith with the larger culture.
While the fledgling Church provided answers to the many questions about “how to live” for the Corinthians, there were things about their lives that were called into question.
In this letter to the church there, Paul addresses different areas of their culture to give guidance and direction about what would be proper for those professing faith in Jesus.
And, regardless of the issue, there were people of faith on both sides of the many issues.
The area addressed in chapter 8 is the eating of meat that has been sacrificed to idols, which is something we are intimately familiar with… because we eat idol meat all the time…
Which is why this can seem odd to us and can be difficult to discern what, exactly, is being said to the original readers (Corinthians) and then to us.
Let’s get to the sitz im leben (cultural context) to shed some light and maybe see, more clearly, the meaning behind Paul’s exhortation.
The sacrifice of animals for religious purposes was not exclusive to the Jewish people. Animal sacrifice can be seen throughout history in the many religions that tried to understand life, our lack of power and our incompetence at knowing, really, how life is supposed to be lived.
Corinth was such a place.
Lots of temples.
It was the center of the worship of Aphrodite.
The people there were used to it.
It was “normal” to them.
Like a hippy drum circle in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood.
It was a way to appease the “gods” that, somehow, managed the affairs of their world.
Then, along comes Jesus.
The Son of the Living God.
Who, incidentally, does not require animal sacrifices.
The funny thing about animal sacrifice is that once the ritual purposes of sacrificing the animal are accomplished, there is still a cooked piece of meat left over. And to those who are hungry, or in a world where this cooked meat is sold to sustain life, AND have converted to Christianity, there may be some conflicts of conscience.
To the Jews, the sacrifice of animals was normal.
Except, it was only done be the priests.
And the meat was used to feed the families of the priests.
To the Greek reader, these sacrificed animals were associated with temple cult worship. Which included a vulgar sexual overtone coupled with the appeasement of the many “gods” of their world.
Which, again, might pose a few issues to the newly converted.
For some, the eating of the sacrificed meat was an act of worship of whatever gods the animal was sacrificed to.
So, for some, this was an issue.
But for others, it was not.
In steps Paul to offer a healthy mindset.
Not about whether eating this sacrificed meat was “right” or “wrong.”
Paul settles this in the above passage,
“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.”
There is no effect, spiritually, in consuming the sacrificed meat.
So, Paul is not concerned with that but, rather, how this impacted the community of new believers.
Again, some were okay with the practice and others were not.
Some, as Paul says, exercised “this liberty” in Corinth.
But Paul is always concerned about the community first and not necessarily a champion of individual “freedoms.”
Later in this same letter he writes,
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.1 Corinthians 10:23
And in chapters14 and 15 of Romans, he writes things like,
“Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.”Romans 14:13
“If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.”Romans 14:15
“We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.”Romans 15:1-2
Which is why, in the beginning of this passage, Paul writes,
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
Paul shares that while some might exercise their “liberty” by eating sacrificed meat, the conscience of others may be “weak” and, therefore, they need to be aware of the consequences of their freedoms.
Some in Corinth felt that it was “their right” to eat whatever they wanted.
Some felt guilty about the idol meat market.
Some had the “knowledge” to understand that sacrificed meat was okay to eat.
Others lacked this “knowledge.”
Paul says this “knowledge” can “puff up.”
(Read: make us arrogant enough not to see the damage done to another in our community).
the manifestation of our faith,
can build up.
By being sensitive to a weaker brother or sister,
we can show love to them and encourage their faith.
Ignoring this and exercising our “liberty” places people on a “side.”
A no-no for the Body of Christ.
Nobody gets shamed for being weak in the Church.
“There but for the grace of God go I.”
This should be our attitude.
Even though we may have “freedom” or “liberty” to participate in something, being in community together requires taking the community into consideration first.
This ties back to the sermon from Sunday and the gift we give in “seeing” someone else and not shaming (or naming) them for their weakness.
Are we in the habit of seeing others in a way that understands their particular sensibilities and, acts in a way that provides a place of growth?
I was thinking about this in relation to this current season of COVID.”
For some, they have the “right” to go mask-less.
For others, they feel they have no such “right.”
For some, they feel the “liberty” to gather with others,
perhaps in a church service.
For others, they have no such “liberty.”
Paul might have called this a “strength” vs “weakness” position.
And if we quibbled about it,
we would be missing the greater point.
For the sake of the community, we should exercise our “rights” and “freedoms” in a way that encourages the growth of our community.
We should not “name” someone based on our perception of their position.
It is not our “knowledge” that names us.
It is the God of the universe Who does.
And, we are called to remember our place.
And be aware of the “wake” of our actions as we navigate this life.
Whether person to person.
Or on social media platforms.
Realize your impact on others because of what you do.
Resolve to “see” others.
Resolve to live true community through our shared love of God.
Be available to give up your “freedoms” and “liberties” for the sake of our beloved community.
Love One Another.