Our country has long been a champion of individual rights and freedoms with the Bill of Rights leading the way. Individualism is a big part of American culture. There is a growing sense that acting outside of socially acceptable norms will be corrected by those who come into contact with this behavior. Of course, sometimes the offensive actions are ignored. Those who are
lazier more tolerant may
think, “Let someone else police this jerk!”
There are certain freedoms we curtail individually on behalf of the common good. Probably the most well-known example is yelling “Fire” in a crowded building. We set a limitation on our freedom of speech and expression. Falsely setting off panic among a group of people is not deemed acceptable!
Laws insuring clean air instill the good of the
people over factories that manufacture goods or
create energy. We are not against production,
we just research cleaner methods of doing so. This
is long-sighted rather than short-sighted.
So the common good is an important part of society as well.
A good society balances individual rights along with the good of the community.
This is what Paul is trying to do when he writes to the Corinthians in today’s scripture. We may not understand the whole “don’t eat meat” concept. Basically, most meat purchased in large metropolitan areas in Paul’s day had been gleaned from animals that were sacrificed in pagan temples. Some who were “weak” would have had difficulty eating this meat because they would see it as participation in the worship of a deity other than God.
Some would argue that this actually penalizes those who were strong in the faith – in other words, those who didn’t see pagan influence over their dinner plans. Why should we be punished for the ignorant? It is not fair!
And yet, we abstain because we have compassion for those who would struggle with it. Paul is indicating that our relationships are more important than our diet.
Individually, I would have the theological rationale or the right to eat the meat. But Paul is bidding us to curtail our appetites for the common good. In a church, we band together to help one another.
A modern look at this might be how United Methodists serve grape juice for Holy Communion instead of wine. Jesus did use wine and it was fermented. However, we refrain from the alcoholic version of grape juice in consideration for those who need to have total abstinence from alcohol.
For those who declare that it is a more spiritually validating experience to use real wine, using the logic of Paul from today’s reading, he would say, “Get over it!” To be spiritually strong is to be compassionate toward those who are having difficulty. We give up our individual rights out of a position of strength rather than weakness.
So if we think about it this way, if we are complaining about something in church, does that mean we are spiritually weak?
Photo by muffinn via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.