What part of your body don’t you need?

MF icon parts missingIn case you were wondering, that’s a rhetorical question, not a request for organ donations.  But if the answer to the question seems obvious, then what Paul teaches about the church as the body of Christ should, in theory, be just as obvious.

Sadly, it’s not — which is why Paul had to write those words in the first place.  And why we need to keep reading and repeating them.

In earlier posts, we’ve seen how Paul used the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ to teach the Corinthians first about unity, then diversity.  Then he returns to the subject of unity, this time seeming to speak to some form of arrogance that was plaguing the Corinthian church:

But as it is, there are many parts but one body.  So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”  (1 Cor 12:20-21, CEB)

It’s hard to know to what social problem Paul is referring with his imagery.  Some have suggested that he’s describing some belief in a spiritual hierarchy, or that the Corinthians who spoke in tongues were proudly asserting their superiority.  Still others think that Paul was still talking about the problems of social class that were making such a mockery of the Lord’s Supper.

There are places in the chapter where Paul seems to strain the body metaphor a bit.  But the general lesson seems clear enough.  On any given day, we may take many of the parts of our bodies for granted.  Perhaps we spend a lot of time on our face and hair, but simply assume that our hearts, lungs, and brains will keep doing what they’re supposed to do.  It’s only when they start having problems that we suddenly realize how important they are.

God is the one who has designed and created the human body to work as one harmonious and mutually interdependent whole.  And the same is true of the church as the body of Christ:

But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other.  If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it.  You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.  (1 Cor 12:24-27, CEB)

All of the parts of the body have equal honor, because they are intrinsic to God’s design.  But, of course, we have other ways of thinking, in which some people matter more than others.  That way of thinking, Paul suggests, is as foolish as the head thinking it can get somewhere without the feet to move it.  Or to use quite a different metaphor: there may be quiet competition to bring the showiest dish to the church potluck.  Few may want the lowly role of bringing the forks, paper plates, and napkins.  But try having a potluck without them and see what happens.

It might be worth asking ourselves what form the “I don’t need you” kind of arrogance might take in our own community.  Who’s been taken for granted?  And what needs to be done about it?