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Speaking to the Soul: Tricky Situations

Speaking to the Soul: Tricky Situations

Week of 4 Lent, Year Two

[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 89:1-18 (morning) // 89:19-52 (evening)

Genesis 49:1-28

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

Mark 7:24-37

Instead of giving his readers clear-cut instructions, Paul in today’s second reading gives us advice for tricky situations. His case study is whether or not to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. Although the circumstances of meat production and distribution are far different in my own context, Paul’s methods for ethical reasoning can help us to navigate similarly complex issues for which there is no simple “yes” or “no”.

First, we should give the benefit of the doubt to God’s wisdom as our creator rather than scrutinizing every created gift. As Paul reminds us, “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s,” and we should start by embracing that fullness rather than rejecting whole categories of people and animals and things.

Second, we should take into some account the feelings and opinions of others. If we are a guest in someone’s home, we should receive the gifts of hospitality without objections. As Paul writes, “eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.” And yet, if someone does raise objections to some food or practice, then we should respect their conscience and abstain from what they find objectionable. Notice that these two approaches lead to different outcomes: if you are served meat as a dinner guest, then eat it; if someone points out that the meat you are eating was sacrificed to idols, then don’t eat it. Our ethical perspective as Christians must be flexible.

But finally, we shouldn’t let the opinions of others make us lose sight of our freedom and gratitude. As Paul asks, “why should my liberty be subject to the judgment of someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks?” It appears that when our liberty pricks someone else’s conscience, we should be sensitive and inoffensive when possible, but we need not subject ourselves entirely to the judgment of others.

In the end, our ethical decisions as Christians are less about what we do than how we do so. Paul concludes, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Christians will not always come to one mind. The trick is to navigate a variety of customs and consciences without diminishing our liberty or the scope of our gratitude for the unfathomable diversity of gifts embedded in creation and extended to us by one another.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as Priest Associate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with education, young adult ministry, and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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