I Cor. 12. 12-14, 27-31
In writing to the Christians of Corinth, Paul says they have divided loyalties. Some say they belong to Paul, some to Apollos, some to Cephas– all high profile personalities–and by their divided loyalties they divide the church.
In our reading today at Mass Paul uses the image of the human body to remind the Corinthians that high profile personalities aren’t the only ones who count. Like the human body, the church is made up of many parts and they all count.
The image of the human body Paul uses is not unique to him. Many writers and speakers of his time– Greeks, Romans, Jews– explained the unity and complexity of the empire, the community, the family and individuals through this image. The body has many parts and they’re all needed to form one body.
Our lectionary today leaves out much of Paul’s use of this image, perhaps too much, because you see the concrete way the apostle must have taught the people of his day.
“Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be?
If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”(1 Corinthians 12, 15-29)
What a simple, effective way to speak of the unity and diversity in society and ourselves. Through the images of the body, Paul goes on to speak of the different gifts there are in the church, apostles, prophets; teachers; some have the gifts of healing, assistance, administration…but not everybody has the same gifts.
What’s unique in Paul’s use of the image of the body is where he sees the body come from and what it is now. The body comes from the one Spirit, he says. We drink from the one Spirit; we’re all baptized into the one Body, which is Christ’s Body. We’ve been given different gifts from the Spirit, we don’t all have the same gifts, but what we have are meant to build up the Body of Christ.
It’s interesting when we receive the Bread of the Eucharist, the priest says simply “Body of Christ.” We receive Christ; we also receive his Body, the church, with its gifts, its strength and its weaknesses, but it’s Christ’s Body, and so we say “Amen.” “Yes.”