February 2020

The Food of Mature Faith

6th Sunday after Epiphany, February 16, 2020
Matthew 5:21-37, 1st Corinthians 3:1-9

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

The Church in Corinth was one hot mess. It was a troubled and divided congregation fractured over issues of leadership, theology, gender, just to name a few. It was a congregation for which the Apostle Paul probably spent many sleepless nights. The church attracted a multicultural mix of people from different religious and philosophical strands. And though they had more things in common, it was their differences that divided them. This is why Paul regarded them as “infants in Christ” in need of spiritual milk and baby food, for they were not mature enough for the solid food of mature faith. What does Paul mean by “solid food”?

The psalmist invites us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (34:8), but I suspect that even the psalmist had a particular food and spiritual diet in mind that others may have found repulsive. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is but one example by which we as a church are attempting to accommodate the various religious, social and philosophical strands that converge upon this table including wine and juice, gluten and gluten-free choices; but also accommodating different points of view concerning who should receive the sacrament and, even further, affirming faith perspectives beyond our faith tradition as to what constitutes divinely inspired humanity; all arising from personal encounters with each other as uniquely gifted and called children of God whose hearts and voices we must hear.

The food of mature faith is more a spiritual than physical diet in which we come to realize what little control we have over the menu. For it is God who creates the meal, extends the invitation for all to partake, and conditions our palates to receive it. We do “not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” said both Moses and Jesus. (Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4)  

“O taste and see that the Lord is good” is the psalmist’s invitation to a divine nourishment that awakens our awareness of one another as spiritual rather than physical beings, in which therefore physical divisions no longer hold sway.

The ancient tenets of Torah concerning neighborly relations that basically restrained men from physically harming their male neighbors and their property, which included their wives, Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel, now urged his followers to dive more deeply into the spiritually egalitarian dimensions of these laws to realize that any harm perpetrated upon anyone, be that person male or female, was harm inflicted upon the perpetrator as well. And while many may rightly regard his comments concerning divorce as harsh, they must be understood in the context of a world in which women were bought and sold, married and divorced as property with little or no choice in the matter; and in which divorced women were often discarded to lives of destitution and prostitution. Jesus here attempts to apply heavenly standards, where all are angels of God who neither marry nor are given in marriage (Matthew 22:30), to lesser worldly conditions.

Even now, we are still living in lesser worldly conditions as lesser human beings, where lives of every sexual orientation and gender identity continue to be bought and sold as property by others more politically powerful and financially equipped to create the menu over which we have no control, and by which we are offered up as sacrifices on their platters. Yet this is a menu to which we are accustomed.

The food God offers may be compared to a strict diet a physician suggested to her patient who, in turn, decided this would be a good time to change her entire family’s eating habits, which would now mostly consist of fish, fresh fruits and vegetables. One evening while dining on fish, her daughter pulled a bone from her mouth and asked where she should put it. Her mother said, “Put it in a place where you won’t eat it.” She stuck it in the cauliflower.

The diet God offers may be what the doctor ordered, that which is good for both our physical and spiritual well-being. But it requires a radical reconditioning of our eating habits. For we are all spiritual infants struggling to wean ourselves from the toxic food that ties us to crippling dependencies. We are all striving to adjust to the nourishment of heavenly manna that awakens us to a mature faith and likeness of God. Amen.