The Weak, the Strong, and #MeToo: A Homily on 1 Corinthians 8

This is a guest post by Kaitlin Hardy Shetler who delivered this homily on 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 at the All Saints Church of Christ on January 28, 2018.

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When I read Corinthians, I am struck by how many times Paul connects weakness to holiness. It’s as if the whole letter, peppered with missives to keep the weak in mind—to even change our behavior in favor of the weak—values those who struggle. It shouldn’t be surprising, given that Jesus’s ministry was to the sick, wounded, and burdened, and that Paul, a former Pharisee and Persecutor, was literally weakened by God in order to fully know Christ. The weak is where God resides. The weak is where God shows up. So to God, shaming and shunning the weak isn’t to be taken lightly.

I wonder if this is how we typically read this passage in Corinthians? Do we see the “weaker brother” as an opportunity to be compassionate and empathetic, or do we see him as a chance to be self righteous and arrogant? Paul says that wounding another’s conscience while it’s weak is tantamount to sinning against Christ. These are harsh words, and the fact that we typically brush by them aside in a rush to proof-text and condemn, should give us anxiety. We see the “weak” as “sinners” who just can’t control their urges or ignorant children who don’t understand God like we do. But we totally miss the fact that these individuals aren’t any less faithful or spiritual—they are just…burdened. Wounded.

In youth group, I remember ministers using these words to describe people who drink or swear. That was the extent of the exegesis of these verses, and even as a teenager, I felt it was missing the spirit of what Paul’s saying. And I believe that’s because it’s easy to use this passage address sins, but it is harder to see it as addressing woundedness.

Because that requires more work than just “not drinking”—it requires a deep sense of empathy and the ability to take another’s perspective. It requires putting aside one’s arrogance, and adopting the difficult stance of embracing another’s pain, woundedness, and weakness—walking alongside it and recognizing that any actions that would further wound that person are condemned by Christ.

When we talk about this, we’ve got to define our terms. Who are the wounded? Who are the weak and powerless? And why do they deserve our consideration over those who see themselves as enlightened and unburdened?

We can reframe this as understanding power dynamics. When we examine any situation, we have to ask ourselves, “Who has the power?” Weak people don’t have power. Wounded people aren’t historically centered in these conversations. Keeping in mind the weak means that we recognize this social fact. Socially, in Paul’s day, the weak were the disadvantaged, the oppressed, women, minorities, and the underclass. In our day…it’s the same.

I am compelled to address the #metoo movement and the plethora of women finding their voices and speaking out about their experiences with sexual assault and harassment. The church has been deeply lacking in prophets and protests addressing these issues, and while the secular world is experiencing a much-needed reckoning, our sanctuaries are silencing these stories. Women are being pushed out of the church for speaking out. Silence is being disguised as forgiveness, and victims are being shamed into welcoming back their abusers with open arms. Toxic theological teachings are being spouted as truth and used as tools of shame to protect the leadership structure. And the prevailing narrative is, “I know better than you. God wants you to forgive. Just get over it.”

And that narrative is a death sentence for someone’s faith.

We are bombarded by powers and principalities that constantly wound and weaken humanity. Racism and sexism exist deep within the fabric of our society, and abuse runs rampant in our world. We cannot sit in a congregation without coming into contact with at least one person deeply touched by this evil.

So we can’t walk away from people, puffed up in a false knowledge that says, “Just get over it. It’s not a big deal. We all know this world is not our home.” That is not empathetic, compassionate, or accurate. It does nothing except exert arrogant power over the wounded individual. And, according to Paul, it is sinful.

Paul is calling for empathy. And this empathy must flow in the direction of the weak and wounded. Not the abuser. Not the privileged or advantaged or rich or powerful. It must surround like a gushing river the souls and consciences of those hurting. In these instances, we must think to ourselves: “Does my treatment of this issue lead someone closer to or further away from Christ?” “Does it further wound them, or does it grant them healing?” And our priority is always to the least of these.

With that in mind, allow me to present an alternative reading of this passage.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now concerning racism, sexism, sexual assault, and all those other worldly evils: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know it all actually doesn’t; but anyone who loves God is intimately known by God.

Hence, as to these evils, we know that “Christians are transformed by the renewing of their mind,” and that we “forgive as God forgave us.” Indeed, even though there may be evil in this world—as in fact there is hate and prejudice and abuse— for us there is none, for all are equal in the eyes of the Lord.

It is not everyone, however, who has this experience. Since some have been abused and persecuted and harmed (and in fact, are still suffering the effects of this), they still see these evils as realities and hear the dismissal of them as approval of their suffering. Their souls and bodies, being wounded, are weakened. We are no worse off if we do not “forgive and forget”, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty and privilege of yours to ignore these evils and focus on “things of above” does not somehow become a stumbling block to those who have been wounded by the here and now. For if others see you, who live a life free of these experiences, making light of them and acting as if they don’t have any impact on people, might they not, since they are wounded, be encouraged to the point of harming themselves and their faith? So by your arrogance those wounded and hurting believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their faith when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if denying their experience, if inviting those who caused them pain to break bread with them, if asking them to forgive and forget is a cause of their falling, I will never do these things, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

God is a God of the weak and wounded, and he will not forsake them. He will not tolerate an arrogance that dismisses their experiences or devalues their existence. This passage is not about eating or drinking—as Paul says, that is beside the point. This passage is about compassion and empathy and the ability to take the hurting into our community and show them that they are more important than a theological debate or a self-righteous posturing. This exists as a warning to us: God’s heart is wounded. Christ was made weak. Worldly power has no place in the church. We are called to bear with one another. Not doing so is not bearing with Christ.

May we be spurred to the good work of embracing the wounded and weakened, and by our actions and support, bring them closer to God and the hope of a world free from oppression and abuse.

 

 

 

 



3 Responses to “The Weak, the Strong, and #MeToo: A Homily on 1 Corinthians 8”

  1.   Rich Constant Says:

    Thanks, John Mark
    over the last seven or so years, I have been plagued with the loss of my partner in the marriage of 25 years.
    This issue cast me into the throws of my alcoholism, which threw me into the unscalable pit of emotional despair (which even caused more depression). The devastation of my life
    was occurring, and there was no stopping this spiral of my own demise.
    Socially outcast.
    My only Hope was that the Lord Knew of my issue with the trauma and that I would find the answer to what I considered to be the worst kind of failure.
    Divorce!
    To say the least, I have been on the receiving side of this self-protecting nature.
    “So, by your arrogance, those wounded and hurting believers for whom Christ died are destroyed”.
    Amazing? No, I would have been surprised if the general reaction had been one of a true giving nature for someone that wound up sleeping in a car homeless and living in recovery housing. and going to jail.
    I talked with more people that needed the Lord and I tried to give the Hope of the scriptures by being one of them.
    OH… by the way, i am fine now that the divorce was not all my fault.
    Yes! another answer that was just to Complex for my Simple mind.
    Thanks for putting this post up. hope someone gets it…
    Boy oh Boy

  2. Profile photo of Dwight Haas  Dwight Says:

    John,
    An interesting thing is this thing called “knowledge”, we can have it, but still not have it. We can dig into it the scriptures, but not understand God and/or Jesus.
    We can read between the lines, like the Pharisees did, but totally miss the lines themselves,
    We can argue that people shouldn’t smoke, due to it harming the body, the Temple, but misunderstand that God was concerned with things that were sinful (harlotry) harming the spiritual man, and at the same time disregarding junk food, sodas, etc. as being harmful to the body. God was really not concerned with harm to the body and if so, then why tell people that if their eye leads them to sin then to pluck it out. Or that exercise profits a man little.
    God is concerned with the spiritual part of man, because the physical will pass away.
    Now God doesn’t want us to purposely harm ourselves and God doesn’t want us to purposely harm others…spiritually, by flaunting our liberty.
    Which is what I Cor.8 is about.
    We are to have the same compassion on others who are weak that God has on us who are weak, even when we don’t see our own weaknesses.
    God Bless

  3.   Sue Bradley Says:

    I wanted to let you know that my husband and I worshipped at the Colonial Heights church when your Mom and Dad ministered there! What a joy when I heard you quoted in church this morning! I thought, “Could this possibly be Mark and Lois Hicks son? With great joy, I remember your parents! They were a blessing to Leonard and me! We had just married and Leonard was stationed at Fort Lee in Petersburg, Va. There were several young couples and were such a close church family! Bob and Joyce Warren , Bub and Paula Hill were also there, among the young couples! We have kept in touch pretty much since our time there! What a wonderful memory I have of your Dad and Mom! I also typed church bulletin! So glad to find you on Google!

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