Today’s is a continuation of last week’s reading addressing unity and elevating mutual respect and affection over jealousies and petty jockeying for place.
The metaphor of a “body” is used in two ways. First, the church in Corinth is a body, Paul reminds them. Just as it was in last week’s epistle, God has ordained the part each person plays—and being dissatisfied is an attempt to overthrow God’s plan. Hence, there should be no dissension, no putting down of one part by another.
All are indispensable for the intended functioning of the body. As we sometimes say, jokingly, “the world needs ditch-diggers, too.” And we do!
During World War II, the United States government realized the manpower drain of mobilization for war would have a devastating impact on agricultural production, especially in California, so they set up a program to encourage workers from Mexico to come here to the US so that food production—even more key in wartime than it is in peacetime, would not suffer.
It has become common for people to scorn farmworkers, as well as to scorn immigrants from south of the border, yet their labor is necessary not just for our convenience when we go to the grocery story looking for fruit and vegetables—but also for the vital functioning of our economy. The same is true for fast food workers, and the patently false claim that most of them are teenagers working for pocket money each time they ask for a living wage. The truth is that fast food workers are adults who have been displaced from better paying jobs in the workforce. Imagine how many of us would be inconvenienced if there weren’t any places in which one could get a fast meal.
As Paul continues with this exhortation to the Corinthian church to live in respect together regardless of class or station, his verbs are vivid: there should be no ranking, no honoring or dishonoring, respecting or disrespecting. Here again is the magic of Scripture—we ourselves stand convicted of the same kind of division and wrangling against each other. The message is clear: we cannot cut ourselves off from each other and still claim Jesus as our Lord, or that we are his disciples. We are mutually dependent on each other and must love each other as ourselves—see the Great Commandment.
But, Paul adds a significant expansion to his image of the Church as a body—that we are not just any body. No, even more importantly, Paul reminds the Church that it is CHRIST’S body, which places even further stress on the need for unity in recognition of that great responsibility and honor. We are the visible image of Jesus for much of the world, which puts even greater obligation upon us to model Jesus’s message in all our actions, both as individuals and as part of a religious institution that has taken upon itself the identity of Christ in our very name as well as witness.
The world will know Christ—or condemn Christ– though the actions of Christians in the world. We all have roles to play as Christians besides our station in the world. And the first thing that shows that we have been a taught a “more excellent way” is to put the command to respect each other into action, as a visible, forceful witness to our duty and obligation to each other as mutual children of God.
Remember also, that we celebrate being Christ’s unified body each time we partake of Communion. He states that God distributes gifts as God will, but urges us to “strive” for the “greater gifts.” What are the “greater gifts?” Strangely, this reading leaves off the second half of the last verse, which segues into chapter 13. In the very next sentence, he speaks of “a more excellent way” still part of verse 31. Chapter 13 then launches into the famous discussion of love. So the greater gifts must be love, along with faith and hope.
We are one body, from the humblest to the noblest parts—we are dependent upon each other. From many, we are one. May that realization be a lamp unto our feet as well as our vision.
Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts prayers, meditations, and sermons at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.