Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 63, 98, 103
1 Corinthians 10:15-25
What guidance does the Bible give about our affiliation with others?
There were so many clever ways to begin today’s reflection that I felt stymied by a bit of writer’s block. I wanted to relate tales of Baptist pot-luck dinners. But then Arab proverbs came to mind. The passages, filled with food events and relationships bring to mind many of the conflicts in the Bible. Each of the passages considers relationships that are beneficial to some and harmful to others – most of which are celebrated around the table.
He who lies down with dogs wakes up with fleas.
The Arab proverb won out because the Baptist pot-luck food was always just too good.
Just as the Bible provides guidance in our relationship with God, it provides guidance to the relationships we have in daily life. Who we affiliate with, and how we affiliate with them matters. Affiliations professionally, religiously, and socially shape how we are seen by others.
King Ahasuerus, generally portrayed as a good leader, finds himself in an awkward position through his friendship, and trust of Haman, his chief advisor. His trust in Haman allowed him to give him full authority across the nation. That friendship, demonstrated through meals and drinking together, hid from him the vain motives behind Haman’s actions. Fortunately, he became aware of the motives in time to counteract them, but not before he was connected to the actions; after all, his signet ring sealed the original decree.
Food offered to God in the Temple, after the ritual, could be eaten by the priests according to the law. All offerings followed kosher guidelines and were known to be ritualistic and symbolic. The foods offered to gods in Corinthians did not follow the same guidelines. Daniel, in Bel and the Dragon, an Apocryphal book, caught the priests of Baal stealing the food left out for an idol in an attempt to show the idol was alive and actually ate the food left for it – meaning the food was anything but symbolic. The same idea comes out in Corinthians. Though, under the New Covenant, the food was acceptable to eat, it was tainted by the sin through the intention behind its preparation. Paul seeks to make that distinction for us: just because the food would cause us no harm, does not mean the action of partaking in it would not.
Do not mistake the passage to mean we cannot reach out to sinners – Jesus commanded us to. What Paul means for us is to not become immersed in the activities of those who live un-Christian lives. Jesus regularly engaged those who were outcasts of faith to demonstrate the power of salvation, but he never engaged in the tax fraud, prostitution, or other behaviors that defined the people his ministry touched. The same is true for us: we are called to share the path of salvation, but we do not have to walk the same path to get there.
Just as the Corinthians passage discusses our affiliation with the “unchurched,” the Matthew passage discusses division within the church. Following Biblical laws of testimony, it provides step-by-step guidelines for resolving conflicts within the church family. Conflicts with those we care about create much more pain and strife than those with people to whom we do not have an emotional attachment. Our hearts operate that way. Conflicts in the church can either destroy our faith or make it stronger. The guidelines Matthew provides help us make our faith stronger and our relationships within the church stronger.
We are judged by the company we keep both inside and outside religious circles, but God sets the standards to protect our secular and holy reputations. It is not nearly as difficult as we sometime pretend it is with our feelings on our sleeves, but keeping a good reputation can be maintained by all.
Let us consider those around us and the example we set for them by following the example you have set for us.