Alexandre Solzhenitsyn once said, “We always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.” I wish I had learned this earlier in my life. I would have avoided some painful idolatries.
But we humans are slow learners. And over and over again we come to the end of what we thought we could not live without and discover all too late that we certainly could live without it. We idolize the fantasy of romance, or wealth, or even religion, and then we wail with disappointment when we get what we thought we wanted and find it just as hollow as what we abandoned. Idolatry is certainly the human weakness most of us regularly stumble over in trying to solve the God-shaped hole in our lives all by ourselves.
Look at our lesson today in 1 Corinthians 11:31-34; 12:1-6:
BRETHREN, if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for another – if any one is hungry, let him eat at home – lest you come together to be condemned. About the other things I will give directions when I come. Now concerning the spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were heathen, you were led astray to dumb idols, however you may have been moved. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.
St. Paul is confronting the Corinthians with their misuse and deep misunderstanding of the Eucharist here. That’s why he says “if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home.” The Eucharistic “Agape meal” had become a full-fledged banquet in Corinth and the wealthier Corinthians were eating well while the poorer members of the community weren’t. Paul was appalled (pun intended!) by their behavior and he likens the Corinthians missing the point by comparing their misunderstanding and violation against true communion as a throwback to their days of being “led astray to dumb idols.”
Fascinating, don’t you think?
You see, idolatry is a particularly powerful delusion that manifests itself primarily in the selfishness of the “worshipper.” I create a “god” of whatever I want or desire so that I can get it for myself! I reduce the practice of the faith to mere repetition of old words so that I can say I did my “duty” and demand that my “god” give me my reward. Horrible when it’s put that way, don’t you think?
Paul wants these Corinthians (and us) to move away from the delusion of “dumb idols” so that we will not misunderstand the grace of the Eucharist, the power of our spiritual gifts that each of us possess, and the authority of a sober understanding of Who God is in the first place.
It is the Grace of the Eucharist that is meant to enhance our common life together in a parish. The Eucharist is meant to draw us closer together with God AND each other. It is the delusion of idolatry that reduces the Eucharist to some “magic food” that makes God accept me. No. The Eucharist is meant to show me my need for God and my brother and banish the power of selfishness from my heart.
It is the Power of the Spiritual Gifts that destroy any notion that I am meant only for myself. The Holy Spirit gives each of us spiritual gifts to serve, not to be served. The power of these giftings to serve make impotent the tug of self-centeredness that always ends up creating a false “idol” for me to worship!
It is the Authority of a True Knowledge of God that protects me from the temptation of developing a false notion of God that always reduces my worship to idolatry if I don’t stay awake to the subtle power of delusion to reduce my view of God to either a doting and senile “grandfather” giving out candy OR the equally false notion of an angry “god” always wanting to throw me into hell!
Today, isn’t it time to abandon your idols? Aren’t you tired of discovering how unsatisfying all those things are that you “just couldn’t live without?” Yes, it’s time to do the hard work of abandoning the false idols that keep you spiritually sick and become Orthodox on Purpose.