Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

Freedom Vs. Principle

Popular Translation

31 No matter what you eat or drink or do, do it as a prayer to God. 32 Try to live innocent lives before everyone, especially people in the Church. 33 Follow my example. I try to please all people in everything I do. I try to think of others when I do something, not just myself. In that way, I hope my example will be a way for God to save others.

1 Imitate me in the same way I imitate Jesus.

Literal Translation

31 So, whether you should eat or drink or do something, do everything for the glory of God. 32 Become without blame before both Jews and Greeks, and (before) the assembly, 33 just as I, too, try to please everyone in every way not seeking for my own use, but for the (use) of many, so that they might be saved.

1 Become my mimics, just as I (am) of Christ.

When can I exercise my rights as a Christian? In one sense this question has always been with the Church ever sense St. Paul wrote the community at Corinth. As Paul stated the issue, when can I exercise my self-interest? When does it clash with the common good? But there is a greater question posed: to what extent can I partake in general culture?

In the Corinthian community, different factions answered those questions differently. Remember that the Christians in Corinth faced a hostile, but exclusive, Jewish community. Early Christianity had its roots in that exclusive world view. With the conversion and initiation of Gentiles into the community, accommodations were made to that sense of exclusivity. Gentiles did not have to become Jews in order to become Christians. The Gentiles were free from the Law and its duties. Paul assumed Gentiles converts would trade the Greek cultural world view for that freedom. Principle gave way to practical need and theological insight.

That trade-off became a sacrifice for many neophytes. Trade, culture, and recreation in Corinth revolved around pagan temple cult. There was an active fertility cult at the temple to Aphrodite, for example. While many in the Corinthian community were not involved with such practices (see 1 Corinthians 6:12-20), there were opportunities for Christians to become involved other aspects of the pagan culture. With the number of temples in a major seaport, Corinth had a thriving business in religious tourism. What happened if the Christian were part of that tourism business?

Even worse was matter of meat sacrificed at these pagan temples. This meat was commonly available in the marketplace and was frequently served at parties and formal dinners. (In some cases, the meat was given away during temple celebrations; so it became a food source for the poor of the city.) In this case, how could Christians in the city not run into a problem when socializing with non- Christian family members and friends? Some rationalized that, since the pagan gods did not exist, they could eat this meat "offered to idols" with a clear conscience. Eating such meat meant a "communion" with these "gods." But since they did not really exist, no communion existed. And hence no sin. (See 1 Corinthians 10:23-29)

While Paul agreed with their logic, he still urged caution. And he appealed to a higher principle: the good of others. Scandal in the community was caused by misunderstanding and bad example, based upon the insistence to use one's rights. While Gentile Christians were free from the Law, and they were free to engage in the culture, that freedom had a price. Christians were responsible to God and each other.

Freedom vs. principle. The fight between the engagement of culture (that is, the effort to be timely and inclusive) vs. the particular world view of the community (that is, its identity and timeless principles) is not new. While the modern fight might be entrenched between "liberal" and "conservative" camps, the underlying questions are the same. When do we seek to open our doors to outsiders? When to seek to maintain our unique identity as Christians in an increasingly secular (even pagan) culture? When do we include? When do we exclude?

We should take a lead from Paul. Freedoms have limits. Principles are subject to higher ones. Both come together in one command: "Love one another as I have loved you." The words of Jesus should guide our action, just as Paul urged the Corinthians to do.

Have any of your actions done at church caused scandal? While everyone might be bound to cause scandal at some point, how can you take others into account when you make a major decision? When should you cause scandal based upon principle?