By Sarah Cornwell
Reading from Romans, 14:1-12
1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 5Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. 7We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
In this life, there is much to debate. Some debates are worthwhile, others less so. How can we tell the difference? St. Paul offers some insight. Some in the Roman community continued to adhere to the dietary laws of Moses and refrain from eating meat. This bothered others, who judged them as having weak faith, for in Christ, are we not set free from the law’s requirements?
Instead of answering directly, St. Paul reframes the debate. First, we can’t open our doors and claim to be welcoming if we are only then to attack those who enter. In other words, we can’t say, “Come right in, and now that you’re here, this is why you’re wrong.” We are called to demonstrate more charity, more patience than that.
Second, for those of us who are welcomed, we can’t then turn around and judge harshly the house we’re entering. It’s a matter of mutual hospitality, remembering it is God who is host to us all. Just as those who put out the welcome mat cannot do so in order to lord their supposedly superior knowledge over those who enter, those who enter should not do so in order to lord their supposedly more virtuous lifestyle over those who have welcomed them. Or vice versa.
It is not that the knowledge is wrong, and we are indeed called to attempt a virtuous life! But the most important thing is the way in which we orient the knowledge we’re given and the virtues we pursue. The spirit of the law is obedience to Christ, love for God and neighbor. To that, all Christians, Jew or Gentile, must submit themselves. All that we do is to honor the Lord, not to inflate our own sense of superiority. The Romans needed reminding of this. So do we.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have five children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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