16 September 2008 Memorial of Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian
1 Corinthians 12, 12-14, 27-31 Against Egocentric Competitiveness
We are one body. This is one of the famous quotes of St. Paul taken from the first reading today. But Paul was unlikely to be the source of this concept. The idea of a society as one body was a widespread concept in the ancient world. They were fascinated by how each part of the body coordinate with each other. They marveled about how the whole body was affected by a part of the body that was in pain. Paul observed that the Christian community in Corinth was divisive. So, he would like the body of Christians to emphasize its organic unity. Diversity is rooted in unity. The different members all share a common existence. Like parts of the body, there is the ‘person’ that gives unity to all the members.
We are usually caught up and stuck by diversity. We easily see what makes us different from each other. We have different categories to define who belongs to what group. By seeing how varied we are, we affirm our uniqueness — which is good. But our culture moved towards the extreme of individualism: what matters are our personal tastes and needs. The Church too is characterized by diversity. World Youth Day 2008 has greatly witnessed to this plurality. What is therefore important is to know the reason that brings us together. The common thread that binds us all.
Second, Paul said that the body needs many members. Just as the human body needs different members (verses 14-20), so the Church needs a variety of gifts, and each one makes a specific contribution. When Paul said that we are the body of Christ in the world, he means that Christ does need a ‘body’ as ours. In order to do the work of the Kingdom in this day and age, He needs people with bodies to do it. If He needs to feed people, He would need farmers to plant the seeds and others who would process them. Part from being Christ’s body is to know our gifts. So that knowing our gifts, we know our part, we know what we can contribute. Because we cannot give what we do not have.
There is an angle to this passage that I think is important. In the previous passage (Chapter 12, 1-11), there is a question that asks about the hierarchy of spiritual gifts. Beneath this question is an egocentric competitiveness that was detrimental to community life. If one gift is far better than the rest, whoever possesses that gift becomes superior. So Paul reminded them that all gifts have a common origin and therefore all gifts serve one purpose. Since the Holy Spirt gives these gifts and ‘operates’ the gift, no one can boasts who is greater. Elitism does not have a place in the paradigm of Christianity. This is the reason why in Christian life, leadership is service, not a status or a rank. We ask what we can contribute; not what we can gain from it.