Benedictine University and MySpiritualAdvisor.com’s Mark Kurowski reflects, What is your example? St. Paul and Charles Barkley give a new focus on this question. Listen to this podcast of his reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time and send us a comment . Please read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.

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For Benedictine University and MySpiritualAdvisor.com, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 1/29/2012The 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Please pause this audio and read 1 Corintians 8:1-13.

Leading by Example

Charles Barkley, the former basketball player, after an unfortunate tirade that landed him in jail, was questioned about how his behavior looked to the young people who were following him. He replied, “I am not a role model.” At the heart of Charles Barkley’s thought is the notion that we are independent individuals and we have no responsibility to anyone but ourselves. Somehow, our society has accepted this notion that we can somehow behave as we want individually and it has no effect on others.

My friends, we as Christians do not believe this. Christianity has no place for individualism that excludes a responsibility to others. “To love one another as I have loved you,” as Jesus commanded in the Gospel of John (13.35ff.), is a selfless act. What Mr. Barkley wishes to achieve in his belief that “he is not a role model” is to relieve himself of any and all responsibility for his actions. How can a professional basketball player, in this day and age of sports star as movie star say that what they do should have and doesn’t have any bearing on the behavior of children? This type of statement is like the tobacco companies claiming that billboard advertising has no impact on people in influencing their smoking habits. If that were true, then why would they buy millions of dollars of billboard advertising to boost their sales?

What concerns me in this climate is that we are becoming increasingly antagonistic toward anyone who claims that individualism is not the be all and end all of life. Personal satisfaction is not the sine qua none of existence. Christianity is not Burger King Religion: Jesus did not die so that “we could have it our way.”

From the moment that Paul began to preach in Corinth, it was a community effort. The city of Corinth was a crossroads of trade in Asia Minor and it was filled with different religious beliefs. Everyone in the community had to take time and pains to make sure that they promoted the Christian life. It took a village of Christians to help a pagan convert change to the Christian way of life.

Paul’s discourse occurs in a city where meat was sold from the pagan temples where it had been sacrificed and offered to idols. There were some in the community who held to the long standing Jewish understanding that idols and other religions were not really real. There really was no other God but the Lord our God. There was no power or demonic force in that idol. It was lifeless. Being lifeless it had no power to give to the meat which was offered to it. Therefore, the Christian, being freed by this knowledge could eat the meat, if they really wanted.

Yet, there was a problem. Some in the community were still in the transition from their pagan lives. St. Paul says, “But some who have been accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” To these folks, the person eating this meat was breaking the First Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other Gods but me.” So, the people who ‘possessed the knowledge’ that the meat didn’t really have any power would cause these new folks to see Christianity as a faith that sets us free from any moral code. These new converts could think, like Charles Barkley, that life is about being yourself at the expense of the community. Or, they could think that being a Christian is about filling up ourselves for ourselves, instead of filling up ourselves for God’s plan in our community. They might take on the motto, “The world be damned, I am not a role model!”

I have students who are over 21 here at Benedictine University. But this doesn’t mean that I am going to go out and have a beer with a student from the school. That would cause some who understand me to be a role model for the students to be scandalized. I could flaunt my position and knowledge of the student’s age and tell those who would be scandalized to, “get over it.” But, Christianity is not about ‘being free to do what I want.’ Christianity is about being loving to each other as we seek to build each other up in the moral life. That moral life is a communal response to God’s love. He loved us in the sacrifice of his own Son, so we thankfully live a moral life as a response to that act of grace.

This is the rub between us and the world my friends. We will sacrifice what may be lawful for us to do so that others in our community do not take our liberty as an excuse to do whatever it is they want to do which may be harmful to them or the community. Living the moral life is done as an expression of thanks and as a model for those who are just learning what it means to be a Christian. My local paper proclaiming that Paganism is “coming into the mainstream” the time for us to be role models is now.

Now, before we get sad and remorseful that I said we needed to lead a moral life, there is a wonderful side to all of this. What is wonderful about all this is that two things can happen if we take this seriously. The first is that we become a positive influence in a person’s life. It is said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” But who is flattered when someone is imitating our bad habits? It just perpetuates the sin.

The second thing that we can take from this is that the community of faith is about giving ourselves to others in love. When there is a funeral in our community, I am touched that everyone around here remembers the service that the deceased gave. The whole community is benefitted and enriched because the person we memorialize doesn’t insist that he be allowed to do whatever he wanted to do. We remember how the person we have lost enriched the community by giving what they had in a positive way. I would encourage all of us to do the same those who were good examples before us.

Being part of the body of Christ is about being part of the body of Christ. Each of us is a member, or a piece, of the body of Christ. In being so, we are all connected. We have a mutual responsibility to the up-building of each other. When we build one person up, we are building ourselves up. That is the crux of St. Paul’s conversation with the Corinthians.

One of the things that I tried to do at every church I served was to get the parish more involved in the community. I would look around whatever parish I was in and see people who are wonderful. I would see people who could serve as role models for children who have none. I would see people who could serve as role models for young women who have no idea what to do with their pregnancy. I would see people who could serve as role models for young men who don’t have a clue as to what it means to be a man.

We can make a difference in whatever community we are in because we do not take freedom in Christ lightly. We know that there are many things which we could be free to do, but others would not understand. They would think that following Christ is whatever they want it to be. That, in the end, would lead them to their destruction. We, as a community of faith, are about being role models. Sure, I wouldn’t want any of my children to follow Charles Barkley as a role model in this instance. But if he had role models who had taught him that we have a mutual responsibility to each other, maybe he would have spent a little less time in barrooms fighting it out.

We need Christian role models, will you be one? Amen? Amen.

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