Masks and Stumbling Blocks

We have come to our “meat offered to idols” moment. Remember the controversy in Corinth which Paul had to address in what we have as his first letter to the church there? That was, by all accounts, a contentious church with different parties vying to have the final word on one issue after another. (Sounds familiar, right?) There were moral questions, there were questions about whose gifts were more important for the life of the church, and then there was this question about buying and consuming meat.

Christians in Corinth were a tiny minority and like most of the Christians in the first century of the church, there were many who were of quite modest means. Many of the first Christians had to operate their households on a budget without much wiggle room. Whoever did the shopping in those households would have been looking for bargains wherever they could find them. Many households do exactly the same thing these days.

Among the other practices of religion in Corinth, there were those who worshiped gods to whom meat would be sacrificed. However the ritual of this sacrifice went, there was meat left over afterward and it was sold at a lower price than meat that had not been handled by the one doing the sacrifice. Christians were buying meat that had been offered to idols and it was confusing people. Did they believe there was some power in this meat and was that why they were buying it? Did they believe in Jesus and also in the god to whom the meat had been sacrificed? Or were they just saving money?

Paul wrote to Corinth about this controversy. He admitted that there is nothing special about this meat and we all know that there is only one God. But he also reminded them that there were people within their midst who were just coming to knowledge about and faith in Jesus for whom this created a stumbling block. There were also their neighbors in Corinth who were confused about this new faith in Jesus that seemed to be intermingled with the god to whom the meat was sacrificed. Paul’s advice was to stop buying and consuming this meat since such an act created a stumbling block. The basis for the decision about what to do was what was best for the whole community of believers, not what was best for one individual or another.

Have you had the discussion at your church or place of work about going back? Will you require masks? What will you do about employees or members who refuse to wear them? Will you point out the governor’s order? Will you shrug your shoulders and say you think it is stupid, too, and form a coalition to try to convince those making decisions to ignore the order about masks in public? Will you share all of the science behind asymptomatic carriers and so on?

Or will you remind church members, as well as those who work in organizations that have a Christian basis, about Paul’s admonition? We are wearing masks not so much for ourselves but as a sign that we value every member of our community. We value people who are in vulnerable groups; we value people who have to interact with multiple people over the course of a day; we value community above any qualms we have about looking silly or feeling too hot or making it look like we support one political party over another. When we wear masks in public we are showing people that a part of our faith is to value the whole body of Christ and every member of it as we continue to bring hope in the name of Jesus.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago