Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
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. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of 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 arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
This teaching by Paul is important. It has been foundational in the development of our theology. It is among the reasons why we believe in the beauty and sacredness of each person, differences and all.
But the side of this passage that I find harder and harder to ignore, is this part about inferior members of the body of Christ. Now when Paul mentions these inferior members, it is to say that we give them more honor, so all members feel cared for and a part. But that still implies that some folks are more important in the body of Christ than others.
Now, this passage definitely challenges the way the world designates and measures value and worth. This passage reminds us that those we often despise are often invaluable; whereas those we lift up and honor are quite often inferior. I appreciate how Paul challenges the world’s way of thinking about, measuring, and valuing others. I appreciate how God’s way is quite often the opposite of our ways.
What I find harder to digest is the fact that God still measures. From Paul’s words, it would appear that God does not put down the measuring stick, but simply that God measures with a different stick altogether.
Now, living in our society today, I find this notion that some are more valuable that others a tad repulsive. It’s like a bad smell in my nose, that I cannot shake. I don’t like this idea that some are more important than others.
In other places of scripture, we learn that God loves and seeks and saves all people.
I am much more comfortable with those passages.
But this passage, cloaked in comparison and measurement, is hard for me to accept. And I must not be the only one, because everywhere, we have pushes to remove comparison and competition. School field days are no longer competitions among peers. More and more, they’ve become more like choose-your-own-outdoor-activity-fests. The competition has been altogether eliminated. And everyone receives a ribbon.
Part of me is okay-enough with this. But then I’ve also noticed how young adults who’ve been raised in this new social order have very little self-awareness. All you have to do is watch the auditions for any singing competition, and you’ll find person after person who cannot match pitch yet has dreamed of being a singer since they were a little girl. All I can think is, “how did that young lady grow up her whole life without knowing that singing isn’t her gift?!”
It’s in moments like this that I feel the new social order of “everyone wins” is grossly inadequate. It’s like we’ve traded one extreme – competition at all costs – for another – Everyone is a winner!
Whatever your personal taste may be, this idea of ranking one another or being ranked is controversial. And yet, through-out scripture we hear these words of ranking, value, and measurement. Now, this measurement, God’s measurement, is radically different and juxtaposed to our own, but it IS measuring, nonetheless.
Perhaps a difference is this – Jesus speaks to action, choices, decisions, inactions. Jesus measures the acts of all people, while treasuring each person. Not all acts are okay. Some are good. Some are bad. Some actions are right. Other actions are wrong. What we do and say and fail to do and say matters. Some acts are full of faith, while others are full of fear and doubt. But all the while we are reminded that God sees every sparrow that falls from the sky, and that we are of more worth than a sparrow. All the while, we are reminded that God knows the number of hairs on our heads.
We are precious, honored, and beloved in God’s sight.
AND, we act in ways that are good and evil, right and wrong, faithful and unfaithful, courageous and cowardly.
Not all actions are equal.
But this explanation still does not satisfy OUR passage today, because the passage isn’t so much talking about actions. It is talking about people, and their differences.
But no one passage is meant to be read in isolation. They are a chorus. When we hear them in conversation together, we are best able to discern the truth. And it is no different with this passage.
While we are assured over and over in scripture that God values all, we also hear that God measures between different acts, good and evil. In fact, God alone can accurately and wholly determine which is which. God alone is in a position to judge. Not all acts are equal. In God’s eyes, it may be that not all people are equal.
All we know is that God alone is qualified to make that judgement. We are not.
Perhaps the key to understanding this passage is the phrase in verses 22 and 23:
On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor,…
Perhaps Paul’s distinctions between the inferior and honorable members is simply a reflection of what WE think. Is it possible Paul is merely speaking to the prejudices and judgements we make about one another, in order to challenge them with God’s way of thinking?
We do not know for sure.
But what IS clear is Paul’s final assertion:
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
We affect one another.
Each of us matters to the whole.
One person’s suffering, is all our suffering.
One person’s honor, is all our honor.
Now you may be thinking now of all the ways this does not seem true. But we are part of one body, the body of Christ. We are part of one human family. We affect one another, both for good and for bad. The harm or wellbeing of each individual matters to the whole. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it,” Paul reminds us.
So in a day and time when we are as tempted as ever to label one another, to judge and dismiss one another, to reduce one another to their shortcomings or political persuasions, may WE be a people who reflect God’s heart for the world:
I came not to condemn the world but that all people might be saved.
May WE be a people who believe God that every person’s suffering and every person’s gain is a loss or a gain to us all.
May WE be a people who STOP ranking and sorting one another with the measuring sticks we’ve found in the school of the world.
May WE be a people who begin to perceive our own worth and the worth of others, more and more, with God’s eyes.
Each made by the hand of God, we are bound together as one creation, one human family.
Baptized into the family of God, we are bound together, as one body of Christ.
May WE love and care for all our members and each person, remembering that we are joined.
When one of us weeps, we all weep.
When one of us is honored, we are all honored.
The Word of the Lord.