26 March 20201 Corinthians 12:12-26
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (v. 12)
Psalm: Psalm 24
We are back in Corinth and once more picking up Paul’s theme of the way the unity of Christians is because of, and not in spite of, their multiple differences. Across his writing, Paul uses a great many metaphors and images for the Church, but the metaphor of the body is one of the most important. For Paul, the Church (that is, the universal Church through the world) is the body of Christ. In baptism, Christians say goodbye to their previous identities as Jews or Greeks, slaves or free citizens. They are all washed away. Instead, the Holy Spirit grafts them (to use a metaphor from elsewhere in Paul’s letters) onto Christ so that they are truly united with him. Within this new humanity everyone is of equal importance and all are dependent on each other. Some Christian traditions speak of a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’, and of course faith and spirituality are intensely personal. But on another level, they are essentially social. We cannot be in relationship with Jesus Christ except by being part of this interdependent body in which the suffering of one causes pain to the whole and the joy of one is celebrated by all.
For Paul, this is the reality of what the Church is and who Christians are. So he is puzzled as well as distressed when he finds – as in Corinth – churches failing to live up to this. Their behaviour is out of kilter with their inner reality. So Paul’s advice (in the words of one biblical scholar) is ‘become what you already are’. It isn’t that we have to work hard to become the body of Christ; the Holy Spirit has already done that. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to shape and direct our lives so that they reflect that reality. Paul’s words may have a special resonance for us at this time. One of the ironies of the present health crisis, with the pressure to limit our social contacts, is that it is reminding just how dependent we are on the network of skills and commitments that keep our society and communities going.
- What do you see as the main ways in which Christians today fail to live up to their reality as the one body of Christ?
- What gives you joy, or hurts you, as you look at Christians around the world?
- Who are you dependent on as a Christian and as a member of society?