Aunt Grace made her first appearance years ago. She reappears at the sound of pompousness. Aunt Grace is the creation of a friend. I imagine her with grey permed hair and gaudy red lipstick.
She entered the world when we walked past some plastic geraniums. I started sermonizing on their ugliness and environmental sinfulness. The world doesn’t need plastic flowers. Enter Aunt Grace.
According to my friend, Aunt Grace used to garden but is now older and has arthritis. She loves flowers but can no longer care for them. Who am I to forbid her from having flowers?
Aunt Grace and Paul notice when we are flirting with arrogance and idols. They remind us that knowledge puffs up. They remind us that love is more important than our correct opinions.
Paul had enough of puffed-up people. Paul tells us of the weak, the Aunt Graces and our need to see beyond our haughtiness.
The know-it-alls in Corinth seem blind to the implications of eating meat offered to idols. Everyone knows idols are nothing. Why not eat meat offered to idols? Paul imagines an Aunt Grace who grew up worshiping idols, like the majority in her society. Now she is nervous around anything that comes close to idol worship (1 Corinthians 8).
Were the meat-eaters viewing the non-meat-eaters as ignorant and narrow-minded? Were the non-meat eaters viewing the indulgers as playing loose with God’s law? Paul reminds them to care about each other and care about the Aunt Graces who want the church to be a strong witness against idols. Paul reminds us to care about those making different ethical choices.
We no longer worry about meat offered to idols, but we still aren’t sure how to live in a society whose values clash with our Jesus faith. How have society’s idols discolored our witness? Do we let individualism shade our shining light? Do we let patriotism and party politics color our authenticity? Do we let materialism and consumerism slant our message of hope?
Paul’s stand on meat offered to idols is linked with his desire for the church to be attractive, not arrogant. Paul wants people to find love and support. Sometimes we all have a nagging feeling that the church could be more attractive, more loving and more concerned about the Aunt Graces.
The Aunt Graces teach us that forgoing tainted meat and staying clear of what looks like idol worship isn’t that costly. It’s a small price to pay to help a brother or sister. Love is attractive. Arrogance sends the wrong message.
Sometimes it’s hard to balance knowledge and love. To find faithfulness in a society that worships idols. To tell the weak from the puffed up.
Noticing when arrogance colors our conversations brings hope. Slowly we are learning to love. We are learning each of us longs for acceptance, not judgment. Being right matters, but relationships matter more. Ideas are important, but people are more important, even people like Aunt Grace. Imagine how it might change the flavor of our churches if we remembered love is more central than knowledge.
I’ve heard it is important to make sure your heart is 10 times bigger than your mouth. For many of us, that is a challenge. When our mouth gets too big, be thankful for friends who point out our pompousness.
Now, about those ugly plastic geraniums: Wouldn’t it be better if there were neighbors who helped Aunt Grace weed her flowerbed and we could save the world from evil plastic?
Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.