1 Corinthians 8:1-13
The heated argument within the Corinthian community some 2,000 years ago – whether to eat meat offered to idols – is not exactly a burning issue of our day. The only real debate we face is whether we want chicken, steak or fish for dinner. We may ask who at the table is vegetarian, who’s the vegan? Or even, who’s ready to eat anything, even that virtual foodstuff called spam? Do our dietary circumstances make Paul’s corrective exhortation to the Corinthian community irrelevant for us? A closer examination of this text may suggest that we too should heed the Apostle Paul.
At issue for the community living in the sometimes wild and wooly seaport city of Corinth was whether it was acceptable for Christians to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. This question was creating ugly friction and division.
Paul responded to the issue in two ways. First, he said that a piece of meat is a just piece of meat. It makes no difference whether it was offered to some false god in a pagan temple. After all, these false gods don’t exist. The foolishness of the pagan cult doesn’t taint the meat. It’s just meat.
But, Paul hastens to add his second point. There may be some in the community who were former pagans and who grew up sacrificing to the idols. For them to now eat the same meat that was offered to the idols is a scandal, even immoral. It may not actually be wrong, Paul writes, but for some it feels very wrong.
Therefore, Paul concludes, it is technically acceptable to eat this meat, but if it causes scandal, if it harms the spiritual health of others, then Christians have the responsibility of love for one another to forego eating that meat. It isn’t a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong. If you have to choose between being right and being loving, then be loving. That is the heart of the gospel.
In so many ways, we Christians remain a conflicted and, all too often, a self-righteous bunch. For example, which Catholic newspaper or magazine is the "right" one to read? Which side does one stands regarding the proper role and ministry of nuns in United States – the nuns or the bishops? Who’s too liberal, who’s too conservative? And the list goes on. How does Paul respond? He goes after all of us, all sides of the liturgical debate, the worship debate, and every other debate. "You’re all puffed up!" he says to us. Human knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
St. Augustine in succinct language urged us to heed Paul: "In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, freedom. In all things, charity."
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.