What Will Your Great Grandchildren Say?

girl looking at you
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/rolandslakis/116382077/">Rolands Lakis</a>

Mark 9:33-37

When they arrived in Capernaum, back at the house he asked them, “What were you all arguing about on the way here?” None of them answered, because they’d been arguing about which of them was the most important.

So he called the twelve of them together and said, “Whoever wants to be the most important has to be the least important and serve all the rest.” Then he held a little child in his arms in the midst of their circle and said, “Whoever welcomes a child like this on my behalf welcomes me. If you want to welcome me, you’ve got to embrace not just me, but the whole reason I’m here.”

It’s easy to romanticize childhood and children. So much is made of “childhood innocence.” But, even for those who look back fondly on happy childhood days, it wasn’t always easy. Children are, of all people, the most vulnerable, in part because they are not really considered fully people yet. Not legally, not socially, not developmentally.

For the vast majority of the world’s children, childhood is no picnic. Entirely dependent on the whims of the adults around them, they suffer in disproportional numbers from poverty, hunger, and sickness and all kinds of abuse and neglect. They are in many places around the world, exploited for slave labor and other unspeakable atrocities. Children are, of all people, most in need of protection and welcome. Not just the ones who happen to be behaving well. Not just when we feel like it. All of them. All the time.

Whatever your project is, whatever aims or ambitions or dreams you have, Jesus says that they will stand or fall on how well they serve the children. Not just the abstract idea of children. Real children. The ones you come in contact with every day. If you really want to be great and do great things but you’re not sure if your idea is a very good one, consider what your children, your grandchildren, and your great grandchildren will think of having to live with it. That’s all you really need to know.

A Little Consideration, Please

two women with heads bowed and covered
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/evergreenkamal/859318504/">Kamak Hamid</a>

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now, concerning invitations to participate in other religious practices, we all know that “everybody claims to know God.” Knowledge just swells heads, love makes great people. Anyone who claims to know everything is full of crap. Anyone who loves is good with God.

So, concerning other religions, we know that there’s nothing to them, really, and the only God is our God. People call all kinds of things “God,” some of them things you can see, others things you can’t. There are lots of things that people worship. But for us, believers, there is only one God, the one who, as a parent, provides us with everything, and the one to whom we belong. The only thing that commands our allegiance is Jesus. Everything is the way it is because of him. We live by him.

However, not everybody knows this. Some participate in other rituals as if they were the real deal, because that’s they way they’ve always done it. They don’t know any better because they’ve been tricked. Ritual won’t bring us any closer to God. We’re no better off if we do it, and no worse off if we don’t.

Be careful that your freedom doesn’t hurt somebody else! What if someone who’s an addict sees you walk into a bar. Won’t that person think it must be OK for them to have a drink, too? And then that person – Jesus wanted that person in the movement – that person gets screwed up because of you. You’re not following Jesus if you lead other people to mistake libertarianism for salvation. In fact, if it would help keep a friend away from drink, I’d never drink again myself.

[See also, previous comments pertaining to verses 9-13.]

Paul’s original context for this is the practice of eating food sacrificed to idols. A context completely foreign to most modern readers. The closest thing in our experience is probably atheists looking down their noses at Christians insisting on saying grace before meals with atheists at the table. The atheists think they know better, and the Christians think they know better, but whose really to say. The sacrifice of animals to various gods was a religious practice, and one that weighed on the conscience of some Christians, and on the list of scruples for others. In Corinth, it had become yet another occasion for a church fight about whose Christianity is better, and people who just wanted to feel right with God were getting hurt.

The whole argument hinges on verses 2-3, “Anyone who claims to know everything [about God] is full of crap. Anyone who loves is good with God.” Paul can’t bring himself to take his own advice about not claiming to know everything about God, but just because he can’t take his own advice doesn’t make it good advice.

So, to go where Paul wants to go (but can’t quite get there), the ritual really doesn’t matter. Not even Christian ritual. If it helps some people feel better, fine. If not, it’s not required. If it creeps others out, it’s probably better to dispense with it. What matters is that you love.

Loving means, as a minimum, being considerate of what is helpful or harmful to someone else. It means being mindful of others’ weaknesses. It’s like a Hippocratic oath of religious practice: “First, do no harm,” or as ethicist Stanley Hauerwas says, “Let the Christians of the world resolve not to kill each other.”