Summary: The authority of Jesus and all of his would-be followers is rooted in love.
Sermon for 4 Epiphany Yr B, 2/02/2003
Based on I Cor 8:1-13 & Mk 1:21-28
“The Authority of Love”
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Authority and love; the authority of love; that is a common thread woven into our second lesson and gospel today. In our world, authority and love continue to be rather controversial and problematic. History, both ancient and modern is full of examples of the abuse and misuse of authority; and love too has been abused and misused. Such abuses and misuses can and do have tragic consequences for the lives of many people.
The story is told of a young boy who spoke to his elderly next-door neighbour quite often. One day the boy confessed to his elderly neighbour: “I’m a bit worried about going to church this week.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Billy,” his elderly neighbour said. “What’s the problem?”
“Well, it’s getting a bit dangerous,” replied Billy. “Last week there was a canon in the pulpit, the choir murdered the anthem, and the organist drowned the choir!”
This humorous story is rather cute, and it points out how children come up with rather colourful literal misinterpretations of the language of adults. However, I believe it is also a good illustration of what we see happening in our passage from first Corinthians. In our second lesson, Paul is very concerned about how mature Christians influence newer, less mature Christians whenever they choose to exercise their freedoms. As the boy in the story picked up on the violent, destructive images in the speech of adults; so too, says Paul, the less mature Christians can pick up incorrect and harmful messages from mature Christians. As the saying goes: “One person’s medicine may very well be another person’s poison!” Those mature Corinthian Christians might not have had a problem with eating meat that was sacrificed in pagan temples to false gods or idols; since they knew that they did not believe such false gods or idols existed and had no power over them. But the newer Christians—some of whom may have been involved in the worship of these false idols and gods—were scandalized by such a practice and in good conscience, could not bring themselves to eat such meat, which reminded them of their pagan past. In today’s world, a similar situation might occur when mature Christians who do not have a drinking problem choose to take a social drink of alcohol in the presence of those Christians who do have a drinking problem. This exercise of freedom by mature Christians without drinking problems may cause those with drinking problems to fall. Our behaviours, says Paul have very powerful and profound consequences, hence to cause someone to fall by exercising one’s freedom is, according to Paul a “sin against Christ” himself.
The problem Paul is addressing here is still prevalent today—namely, that knowledge and the exercise of one’s freedom based on knowledge may be rationally correct BUT ALL TOO OFTEN IT LEADS TO ARROGANCE, AND THE SENSE OF BEING SUPERIOR TO OTHERS LESS KNOWLEDGEABLE. Paul puts it like this: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”