Beware lest your liberty become a stumbling block to those who are weak

(1 Cor. 8 : 8 – 9 : 2)

Apostle Paul in his Epistle to Corinthians raises the question of our behaviour before others, in other words, the question of witnessing our faith or unfaith.

The motive here is an issue that was important in the life of the early Church: should one eat the meat of animals sacrificed before idols, or not? “Concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that the idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one,” writes Apostle Paul to the Corinthians. “However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now, eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. For if anyone sees you, who have knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him that is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?”(1 Cor. 8:4; 7; 10).

To a man who thinks nothing of idols, the meat offered to idols as a sacrifice is just like any other meat – he can have as much as he wants of that meat and it will not be a sin, but if he eats that meat in the presence of someone for whom this meat has some significance, then it is a sin, because this other person will be scandalized, thinking that he has an idolater before him. If we translate this into our times, this would mean that if you do not keep the fasts within the privacy of your own home, it is certainly a sin, but not nearly as great a sin as when you do this before others, because you are giving them a bad example and thus inciting them to sin, too. How many times has it been brought to my attention that certain priests have been seen eating lamb at barbecues before their flock fasts? What else can I say but that they will have to answer to the Lord for their personal sin and receive their lot for it, but that they will be condemned a hundredfold for sinning before their flock and scandalizing them.

We belong to God, says the holy Apostle (1 Cor. 6:19), and, were it not for its impact on others, our behaviour could be characterized as a “private thing” between us and God (of Whom we often forget that He sees everything and will hold us accountable for everything). Take smoking as an example: it is true that by smoking we are poisoning ourselves and this could very well be considered our own, private business, were it not for the fact that smoke does expand everywhere polluting everyone’s air and poisoning those in our vicinity. In the same way our actions, which are visible to others, can poison and pollute our spiritual environment.

Sin has its levels, degrees and weight. The most terrible sin is when a person drags others into the pits of sin. A sinner can repent, but that may not be the case with the person he or she incited to sin. In fact, this is what usually happens. The person who has been led into sin by others usually continues on the slippery and icy path of sin. How many parents have, in these troubled times, poisoned their own children with atheism. These parents may return to the faith, but their children continue on the path to damnation.

I have heard many excuses for not fasting and all of them involve a story about a priest who ate fatty foods during a strict fast. There was even talk about not keeping the fast on Holy Friday, may the Lord forgive us. I do not deny that somewhere, sometime, a monster such as the one described above did exist and that he did, in fact, eat meat on Great and Holy Friday, thus scandalizing and leading astray his parishioners, but it is really difficult to believe. If he did exist, then he must have been a very isolated case. And if he did exist, I am sure he is long in the claws of the devil by now. However, his tally board of sins has not disappeared with him. The sins of those whom he has led astray are still being written on it.

We never come to the Lord nor fall away from Him by ourselves, but always in communion with our neighbours from near and far, people whom God sets on our path. That is why we bear the responsibility for our own salvation, as well as the salvation of our kin. “Brethren,” says the holy apostle James, “if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James. 5:19-20).

On the other hand, the Lord says: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18:6). He does not recommend the sinner to end his own life, God forbid, for that is an unforgivable sin. What He means is that it would be better for a sinner who incites others to sin to disappear as quickly as possible. The shorter his life, the fewer sins he will commit and the fewer souls he will scandalize.

“Woe to the world because of offences!” cries the Lord. “For offences must come, but woe to that man by whom the offence comes!” (Mt. 18:7). This is precisely the reason why God, firmly and inexorably, demands we abandon anything that might be an obstacle to our salvation. No matter how painful that is, we must not have mercy or compassion for sin. The lesser must be sacrificed for the sake of the greater. “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands and two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire” (Mt. 18:8-9).

The person who does evil and incites others to do evil will fare badly, and will answer for his evil deeds and receive a just reward for them. But those who were led astray by others to do evil will not be spared, either. If you do not know how to swim, then do not venture into deep water; if you suffer from dizziness, avoid heights; if you come across something that scandalizes you, shut your eyes. God gave you a rational mind so that you may live rationally. If you are susceptible to a certain type of sin, avoid it like the plague. The Apostle Paul exhorts the Christians of his time by the name of Jesus Christ to stay away from evil people and not even to eat with them (1 Cor. 5:9-11).

Therefore, be watchful lest you cause someone to sin, and also be watchful lest you yourself be led astray. As the old saying says, “God protects those who protect themselves.”