30 Aug Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, January 31st, 2021
Holy Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
With Celebration of Candlemas
Knowledge puffs up but love builds up…
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who was absolutely determined to prove that they were “right” at all costs, no matter what it takes? I would suspect that anyone who has raised a teenager through puberty has probably experienced this situation once or twice. The course of the discussion or debate takes on a life of its own because of the overwhelming need to be “right” and any form of empathy or understanding of the point of view of the other goes right out the window. The discussion becomes adversarial, a contest, a zero-sum game where one wins and the other looses… It becomes a power struggle and in the end, no one really “wins.”
Is that coming from a perspective of assumed knowledge? or from a perspective of Love? Knowledge puffs up but love builds up…
In our first reading, we read that God told Moses that a prophet would be raised up and speak the words that God has commanded them to speak. Further, God goes on to say that God will hold those that disregard the words of that prophet personally responsible but that any prophet that presumes to speak in the name of God words which God did NOT command the prophet to speak, that prophet shall die. Pretty tough words and a challenge – how would the people know the difference, unless, of course, the Prophet were to be hit by a bolt of lightning or something…
In our Epistle reading, Paul writes in his letter to the church in Corinth that it is quite possible that people, while being Christians and believing in God, may still hold beliefs that other “more knowledgeable” Christians find to be “wrong” but he continues, saying that in love, the knowledgeable Christian should refrain from actions that may cause the less knowledgeable to stumble and uses the example of eating food sacrificed to idols.
Looking at the two readings, the difference between the positions would appear to be whether the person is speaking from a position of “head” knowledge or from a position of love which is knowledge of the heart.
Paul writes “Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge but anyone who knows God is loved by him.” and that, in love, one should not use their knowledge in ways that could cause another to fall into sin or what the other would consider as sin, using the eating of food sacrificed to idols as an example.
Almost all the meat sold in the Roman markets came from animals slaughtered in homage to some god. This made sense: if an animal was going to be killed anyway, why not butcher it as a sacrifice to an idol and score a few points with the deity for which that idol stood? Many Jews refused to purchase or consume such food, instead obtaining their meat from “kosher shops.” The question for the Corinthian Christians was, “Should we be as scrupulous as Jews on this matter?”
Paul thinks that food is basically just food, and Christians who do not acknowledge the pagan idols or gods should be able to eat meat from the general market with a clear conscience. Still, he qualifies this advice with a special concern: those whose faith is strong enough to eat the “idol food” without acknowledging the idols must be sensitive to believers whose faith is not so strong. Those who know that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating “idol meat” should nevertheless give up their right to eat such food if doing so would compromise their witness to unbelievers, scandalize other Christians, or tempt less mature converts to become involved in what, for them, actually would be pagan worship.
This willingness to give up one’s rights for the sake of others may be Paul’s dominant concern with regard to this whole “food sacrificed to idols” controversy. He begins his discussion of the topic by insisting that love must trump knowledge as a guide to Christian behavior, and he ends it with a call for those with superior knowledge to seek what is advantageous to others, not themselves.
Paul issued the same admonition in his letter to the Romans in Chapter 14, v13-15 where he wrote “Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another , but resolve instead to never put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded that in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ has died.”
In other words, Paul is making allowances for those who have lived outside of the “law,” meaning outside the Jewish Law at the time. As a Pharisee, Paul lived according to the laws found in the Old Testament regarding food, the keeping of the Sabbath, of washing. But now, as Paul continues his ministry to the Gentiles, those who have NOT lived according to that same set of laws, he has come to realize, to accept and to understand that, in the revelation of God’s Grace through Christ Jesus, through Christ’s sacrifice for humanity on the cross, and through Christ’s resurrection, the grace and love of God is NOT just for those that “know” the “law” and strictly adhere to it but also to those who, through lack of knowledge, have lived outside the “law.”
Paul’s store of “knowledge” has changed and been altered by Love. Knowledge puffs up but love builds up ….
Finally, in our Gospel reading, we see an example of speaking from the position of Love. Jesus, in the temple at Capernaum is teaching with authority, with love, and even commands the unclean spirits to come out of the man in the temple. This is not the result of Jesus’ “knowledge” or of the information that he possessed, but is rather the result of love – of God’s love through Christ, extended to humanity which gave Jesus the power to work miracles.
And that love gives power. We heard last week from Pastor Phil about power, how mortal power tends to be wielded at times unscrupulously by those wanting to gather more power unto themselves, how power can be used to marginalize others, to keep them “in their place,” to make them “less than.” But here, in the temple, we have another example of the use of power, divine power. Power which is based on love. And that power can change the world for the better….
Where do we, as Christians, have the opportunity to use the power of God’s love? To teach, to speak, from a position of love? Having information, having knowledge, IS important, especially in modern society. Knowledge gives us the ability to discern the difference between true facts and “alternative facts,” between truth and fiction, between truth and lies. The difference is in HOW that knowledge is applied.
When we temper that knowledge or the use of that knowledge with love, we can bring about powerful change. Speaking from a position of love, we can bring inspiration, we can bring hope, we can bring reconciliation, we can bring inclusion, we can build bridges, we can bring peace…. And all of these things have one common root – Love.
Let us pray –
Holy and awesome God,
your Son’s authority is found in integrity and living truth,
not the assertion of power over others.
Open our imaginations to new dimensions of your love,
and heal us of all that severs us from you and one another,
that we may grow into the vision you unfold before us. Amen.
Holy Gospel: Mark Mark 1:21-28
Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I knowwho you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.