|SUNDAY HOMILIES FOR YEAR B|
|By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp|
|Homily for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time- on the Epistle|
The Christian Standard of Right and Wrong
|Leviticus 13:1-2, 45-46||1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1||Mark 1:40-45|
The moral behaviour of a person is regulated by that person’s standard of what is right or wrong. For the traditional Jew right and wrong is determined by the Law. What the Law permits is right and what the Law forbids is wrong. In popular American and the globalized Western culture, right and wrong is determined by how one feels about a course of action. As Ernest Hemingway said, “What is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” Traditional Jewish morality tends to legalism, that is, placing the letter of the law before flesh-and-blood human needs. Popular Western morality, on the other hand, leads to moral subjectivism or relativism in which the rightness or wrongness of an action is said to depend on how the individual feels about it. The Christian in the modern world is caught between these conflicting systems of morality.
Today, in the 2nd reading from 1st Corinthians, Paul gives us an alternative standard of morality based specifically on the teachings of Christ. According to Paul, that an action is right or wrong depends on whether or not it contributes to the spiritual welfare of others. In adopting this standard of morality, Paul rejects both traditional Jewish legalism and popular Western individualism.
Paul rejects traditional Jewish moral legalism by reaffirming the freedom of the children of God in Christ with regard to the Jewish Law. For Christians “All things are lawful but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful but not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:24). He also rejects popular Western relativism by reaffirming the overriding Christian duty of love of neighbour, which implies that we put the interest of others before our own. “Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other” (verse 24). The freedom of the children of God and the Christian duty of love of neighbour are the two sides of the one coin that Paul sees as the standard of Christian morality. To illustrate how this principle works in practice Paul takes up the case of whether or not a Christian should eat meat offered to idols.
To resolve the case, Paul first appeals to the fundamental Christian belief that there is only one God and the world and all it contains belongs to Him. As a result we are free from ritual observances regarding beliefs in other gods, which we know to be nothing but superstitions. We can, therefore, eat meat offered to idols since there are no deities to whom it is offered other than the one God that we believe in. Following Christian doctrine, therefore, Christians could eat meat offered to idols.
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience, 26 for “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.” 27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience (1 Corinthians 10:25-27).
That Christians are free to eat meat offered to idols, however, is only one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is the practical consideration of the effects of the exercise of our freedom on others. We are free to eat, yes, but if our eating will scandalise a weak brother or sister and lead them astray, then we should not eat. We refrain from eating not because it is wrong or sinful but out of consideration for our less-informed neighbour.
But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience-- 29 I mean the other's conscience, not your own (1 Corinthians 10:28-29).
Thus, in practice, love of neighbour overrides our knowledge that we are free to eat meat offered to idols.
Paul here gives us a new absolute standard of morality, which the Society of Jesus has adopted as its motto: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (AMDG) = To the Greater Glory of God. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (verse 31). Whatever course of action enhances the glory of God is to be preferred to an action that does not give God the glory in our lives, in the lives of our neighbour, in the community and in our world. This is the Christian standard of right and wrong that Paul teaches us today. We pray God to give us the wisdom to follow this rule of life rather than traditional legalism or the moral relativism that dominates contemporary popular culture.
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