Meat v. Carbs

Monday, October 7, 2013 — Week of Proper 22, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 106:1-18 (morning) // 106:19-48 (evening)

2 Kings 21:1-18

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

Matthew 8:28-34

Our second reading is giving me a lot to chew on with my breakfast of fruit, nuts, and rolled oats. At least I’m not having any meat! I would have to put down my fork and ponder whether it was ethical to proceed. Of course, the factors in a Corinthian Christian’s decision to eat meat are quite different than the circumstances that we usually consider today.

To guide his audience in their decisions about eating meat, Paul lays out a series of opposing arguments.

Anti-Meat: Buying and eating meat in Corinth implies that you are “partners with demons.” The meat available in the marketplace has usually been sacrificed to idols. Best to refrain from consuming it.

Pro-Meat: On the other hand, every created good (including meat) belongs first and foremost to God, so Christians should feel free to partake. “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.”

So far, the Corinthian meat controversy seems like a classic debate between people with scrupulous consciences and people who take greater latitude with the freedom they experience in God. But this conflict moves beyond “conservative” and “liberal” positions.

Pro-Meat: If you’re a guest in someone’s home, you should simply eat whatever is set before you. The rules of hospitality trump the objections of your personal conscience.

Anti-Meat: If someone tells you that the meat a host serves has been sacrificed to idols, don’t eat it. Respect for someone else’s sincerely-held principles trumps the rules of hospitality.

With these two arguments, Paul tries to move his community beyond an impasse of meat-eaters and abstainers. He asks those who refrain from eating meat on grounds of conscience to compromise their principles: “eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.” And he asks those who usually eat meat to restrain some of their gospel-given freedom in the presence of people who might take offense.

Ultimately, Paul’s goal is not to build a Corinthian church that is of one mind when it comes to eating meat. Rather, his goal is to nurture a community of faith that shares in the body and blood of Christ: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

Today might present you with circumstances in which you have to compromise some principles that your conscience holds dear. You might also face circumstances when you hold back from embracing some freedom out of humble respect for someone else’s point of view. Welcome to the complicated ethical marketplace!

What wonderful preparation, though, for taking our place each Sunday not in a community that does or doesn’t eat meat together, but in a community that breaks bread.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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