So, what’s it going to be – your way or our way? I guess your answer will depend on how you see yourself. If you think of yourself by yourself then self-interest is going to trump community interest. But if you think of yourself as in community then your choices have to be measured against the needs of the many and not merely your own interests or comfort.
But, do you see the trap here? A purely (what a lousy use of that word) selfish life is a miserable and lonely life. But the other end of the spectrum is no better, especially with the “group think” mindset so popular today where everybody is gripped with “identity politics” and hyphenated identification. Both extremes come to a common end – the loss of your personhood. So, what the path to a healthy self AND a healthy community? I bet you won’t be surprised by the answer!
Look at our lesson today in 1 Corinthians 10:28-33; 11:1-8:
BRETHREN, if some one says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then out of consideration for the man who informed you, and for conscience’s sake – l mean his conscience, not yours – do not eat it. For why should my liberty be determined by another man’s scruples? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which, I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head – it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair, but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.
OK, St. Paul is dealing with a burning issue among the Christians at Corinth. You see, in those days meat that was offered in sacrifice in pagan temples found it’s way to the marketplace to be sold as food. And there were many believers who said it wasn’t right for Christians to eat meat offered to false gods. But then again, if they were “false gods” then they really didn’t matter so what’s the problem if it’s the best price? Shouldn’t we be frugal and wise on our spending?
As usual, St. Paul takes the narrow road in answering this. He says it depends on your attitude and your love. And, if you love God more than all others, then you consider others in your priorities, choices, and behavior. If your motivation is to “do all to the glory of God.” What motives your choices? What motivates your behaviors? St. Paul is convinced this is the heart of our challenges in our choices and our priorities. And it doesn’t matter which end of the spectrum you’re on because selfish motivations can be found in EVERY aspect of human life. St. Paul even deals with the scruples of his day concerning women and veils, and he insists that we conduct ourselves as thinking of others first BECAUSE we love God most!
So, does that mean women should be veiled in church? Swing and a miss! Does that mean we should never eat anything that offends anyone? That’s strike two! Does that mean men should never pray with a hat on? Strike three! You’re OUT! No, dear friends, even as desperately as we want specific instructions or easy answers to escape having to dig deeper to discover our real selves; it’s our motivation that must constantly be under the scrutiny of love!
Today, if you really stopped and examined your motives in your daily actions, what would that honest scrutiny reveal? Good news, there is a path that protects both your personal integrity AND protects you from caustic selfishness. It is the path of loving God more than anything or anyone, even yourself. This is how to be Orthodox on Purpose.
I read something by Pope Benedict years ago that stuck in my mind. He said two prepositions describe our Lord: “for” and “from”. Jesus is always ” from ” the Father and always “for” others. Your reflection highlights this aspect of being “for others” in our own lives. But how do we know that love is the motivator? St Silouan says we know we have the Spirit of God if we love our enemies. I can’t do that yet, but sometimes the “baby steps” of doing something selfless for the family and friends who truly irritate me is as close as I get. Glory to God for the little things.