Two Authorities: Knowledge and Love
Fourth Sunday after The Epiphany
February 1, 2015
The East Cooper Episcopal Church
I Corinthians 8:1-13
Two distinct authorities appear before us today. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive … but they are distinct. Those authorities are knowledge on the one hand and love on the other. St. Paul describes the distinction between them in these words: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”(I Cor 8:1).
To explain this distinction, St. Paul goes on to mention the rather complicated example of dealing with food purchased at market. That is, various pieces of meat may have been offered as sacrifices to idols. Some believers, therefore, would be reluctant to eat such food, out of concern that it may have been part of such an offering. Yet, other believers – as St. Paul points out – understood that “no idol in the world really exists” (8:4). With such reasoning, those believers had no hesitation at all about eating the food. Thus, the dilemma that St. Paul points out – some would refrain from eating food which had an uncertain history, while others would not be concerned about such a worry at all.
After some complicated, typically-Pauline reasoning, he eventually gets to the point. “If food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall” (8:13). St. Paul, therefore uses a practical way of dealing with the matter. He does not address the appropriateness – or inappropriateness – of eating meat that had been involved in the worship of idols. Rather, St. Paul’s practical conclusion is one that exhibits a gracious understanding of all the people involved. That, surely, is an expression of love – gracious understanding. Two authorities are at work here – but St. Paul is clear that love has the higher priority. Thus, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (8:1).
In today’s Gospel reading, a point is made about the authority of Jesus – a point that actually seems unclear in one sense. That is, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. The observation was made that “he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22).
Actually, though, the scribes in that society had a great deal of authority. Along with the Pharisees, the scribes often were identified as those who best knew the laws and the scriptures. Their authority, you see, came from their knowledge. They used that authority to hold their exclusive position in society. Their knowledge was exclusive, and the scribes used that exclusive knowledge to maintain their positions. Knowledge, therefore, was the basis of their authority.
By contrast, Jesus’ authority was markedly different. Using the distinction made in the First Reading this morning, we may observe that Jesus had the more prominent authority…the higher authority. And, his authority derives from the reality and the practice of love – not exclusive knowledge, but love. Thus it was that Jesus “taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (1:22).
Each one of us could name a number of authority figures in our lives, I feel sure. Many of those figures hold their authority because of knowledge, position, and power. I make this observation as someone who has spent a good deal of time recently in a place that certain positions of authority are quite clear – courtrooms. In our society, judges surely qualify as authority figures. Their authority derives, in one way or another, from knowledge – knowledge of the law, in some cases, or knowledge about how judges are chosen and about how they remain in authority.
Thus, in our lives, we encounter people who wield authority due to positions of power and influence. They come to such positions due to knowledge of some kind. And, by the way, this is not inherently a bad thing. Indeed, we depend on such organization of systems in our social interactions. My point is that these kinds of authorities – ones of power and influence – come about due to the exercise of some kind of knowledge.
By contrast, however, we may consider the image of our focus in church and in life, as Christian people. And this image has special relevance in our liturgy today. The cross represents for us the central sign of our faith and the primary authority in our lives. The death and resurrection of Jesus – symbolized by the cross – have everything to do with the love of God for all people. The cross represents the authority which is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus … the authority of God and of love in our lives.
It is that love which offers hope to our lives. It is that love which provides meaning to our faith. And, it is that same love which builds us up – as individuals and as a community – into who and what God calls us to be. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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