Monday, February 6, 2017


In this week’s Epistle St Paul tells the new Christians at Corinth that, when he first preached to them, he had to treat them “as infants in Christ.”  “I fed you with milk” he says, “not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.” It is easy to imagine some of them bridling at this remark, just as a modern congregation might take serious offense if a priest or preacher spoke to them in this way. ‘Who are you to assume such a superior tone?’ would be a natural reaction. Contemporary churchgoers tend to be very egalitarian. They think that everyone's experience of faith is equally 'valid', and individuals need no special qualifications to be Christians.

St Paul Preaching -- Raphael
Yet, though such a response is understandable, there is a very important lesson to be learned here. Why are spiritual and religious errors not just as possible, and dangerous, as mistakes in medicine? The point can be extended. We happily concede that when it comes to law, business management, physical fitness, or playing an instrument, some people are beginners, some have mastered the task, and a few are real  experts. No  sensible person would commit their affairs to a lawyer, physician or financial adviser who isn’t knowledgeable, no matter how caring, kindhearted and well-intentioned they might be. Such personal characteristics are certainly to be welcomed and valued, but not in the place of genuine knowledge and skill. Is there any reason to suppose that things are different when when it comes to spiritual guidance? Surely more experience, study and reflection can increase or religious sensibility, and result in greater spiritual wisdom ?

Moses and the Ten Commandments -- James Tissot
In the passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus clearly shares Paul’s assumption that there is such a thing as spiritual and moral development. Spiritual development is a matter of moving on from both moral decency and emotionally striking moments. We are told to love God with our mind as well as our heart, which implies coming to understand our discipleship in a deeper way. Moses (in the Ten Commandments) was right. Outward actions are important – murdering, committing adultery, swearing falsely are all things to be avoided. Still, simply observing the rules, however valuable, cannot be enough for those whose minds are set on the things of the spirit. God is a spirit. Those who worship God must worship God in spirit, but the human spirit involves thought, imagination and will as well as feeling.

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