Musing 11.13.20

As, I imagine, did many of you, I made a point of watching Governor DeWine’s speech to the state this past Wednesday. I greatly appreciated his wisdom, candor, authenticity, and concern. Throughout his presentation I kept thinking of scripture passages to bolster his argument for masks. The one that kept swirling in my mind was I Corinthians 10:23-24, “’All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.’ ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his/her own good, but the good of his/her

neighbor.”

The context for this passage is Paul’s wrestling with what our New Testament professor called, “Whoopee Theology.” The gist of it is “Christ died for my sins. I am saved by God’s grace. Whoopee! I can do whatever I want.” Many in the church at Corinth subscribed to Whoopee Theology. The specific problem Paul addresses is the issue of whether or not a member of the church should eat meat sacrificed to pagan idols. Since Christianity maintained that idols didn’t exist, one was free to eat this meat because it was sacrificed to nothing. It was just a cut of meat. It sounds like this faction reveled in their freedom. Others who had recently converted from paganism, were more scrupulous and refrained from eating this meat. It bothered their consciences to do it themselves and to see others do it because of the connotations of their possibly participating in the idol worship.

Paul response is not to address the issue in terms of what is best for the individual, but in terms of what is best for the individual’s neighbor. It is as if Paul is saying, “Of course you are free to do what you want, but that is not the point. You are missing the point. The point is whether or not what you are free to do helps your neighbor. That is the point. If it does not help your neighbor, don’t do it.” One is to think in terms of the welfare of the community of faith. I don’t think Paul could be clearer. People are not to think in terms of “I,” but in terms of “we.” The world is bigger than me.

The practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols is long forgotten. However, it is fairly easy to update Paul’s argument to one’s stance on whether or not to wear a mask. We have freedoms, rights, and entitlements in our country. People say that they have the freedom not to mask, not to social distance. Of course, they have that freedom, but that is not the point. The point is, “Is it helpful to my neighbor?” It is not my rights that matter, but my neighbor’s rights that I should consider. Because I can or may do something, doesn’t mean I should do it. Whoopee Theology and its practice have boundaries because of love of neighbor. When one contemplates an action at this time of pandemic, the question is, “Is it helpful for my neighbor?” Whatever the time, that is the question always. Elie Wiesel said, “Because you suffer, we are.”

Christians should lead the way in this understanding of freedom. As I listened to our governor, I was proud of our church. You have been fantastic in placing neighbor first. We have been faithful with masks, sanitizing, and distancing. It is a difficult time, but your faithfulness eases the burden for everyone.

There are numerous reasons to wear a mask: a mask hides any food caught in our teeth, a mask keeps our face warm on a cold morning, a mask protects the wearer, a mask shows love of neighbor, and a mask demonstrates we are part of a larger community.

Hope you are safe and well.