23 Everything is permitted, but everything isn’t beneficial. Everything is permitted, but everything doesn’t build others up. 24 No one should look out for their own advantage, but they should look out for each other. 25 Eat everything that is sold in the marketplace, without asking questions about it because of your conscience. 26 The earth and all that is in it belong to the Lord.[b]27 If an unbeliever invites you to eat with them and you want to go, eat whatever is served, without asking questions because of your conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This meat was sacrificed in a temple,” then don’t eat it for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 Now when I say “conscience” I don’t mean yours but the other person’s. Why should my freedom be judged by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I participate with gratitude, why should I be blamed for food I thank God for? 31 So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory. 32 Don’t offend either Jews or Greeks, or God’s church.
Everything is permissible? I wish I could ask the apostle Paul about this one. Although he was using an example about food, Paul’s words and meaning go far beyond just what should be respectfully eaten.
It would be easier if the rules of the world were just like the ten commandments: definitive. We might have a little more clarity with everyday things. But even with the ten commandments, we find that there are exceptions to the rule. Do we always condemn the hungry for stealing food, or sentence to death the one who harms another in self-defense? Our legal system is full of circumstances in which people’s situations are debated. It’s better to live the way Paul is suggesting, which is not to judge others’ choices. It’s best to leave the judging to those whose job it is to judge.
For the rest of the time, we do not break laws or our moral codes. Yet we do sometimes, with respect, live a new standard of a different culture. I think of how I often allow kids to tell me their stories by using whatever colorful language they need to use. I think of how we might share Hanukkah cards or customs with loved ones who are Jewish during the holiday season. Although we may not speak the same language, we know the commitment for a God that is greater than any of our differences. But I also think of the days I have gotten things wrong –like the times I carelessly disrespected another’s way and did not take the time to know what was right. For the sake of peace and often within communities that are different then our own, we do learn to follow social rules that we may not always understand.
This reminds me of the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Interestingly, these words actually came out of fourth century Christianity, when Augustine of Hippo (who would later become known as St. Augustine) consulted with Ambrose of Milan about the observance of the fasting on Saturdays in Rome. Augustine was not familiar with such fasting. Ambrose told Augustine that when he is in Milan, he does not fast on Saturdays, but when he’s in Rome, he fasts as the Romans do.
Perhaps we respect others because it is what we were carefully taught. Perhaps we respect others because we have experienced life with and without, such reverence and we want to see things change. Perhaps we know respect for others’ ways because we have paused in silence to check in with that still small voice that helps us confirm what is right. It is then that Paul’s words remind us, “whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory.” It doesn’t matter how we came to this conclusion. We know that however we learn to respect others, we do so first because of the love and grace that Our Lord has freely given us.
by Barbara Carlson
For Pondering & Prayer
What customs or ideas of another’s culture has been hard for you to accept?
Holy One, enlighten my path. Let me kindly share the love and grace that you have so freely shared with me. Oh Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Amen.