Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Epistle

by Crossings

Parts and The Holy One
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
By Marcus Felde

1 Corinthians 12: 12 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. 13 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.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 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.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 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, 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts.


Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Disarranged
Perhaps we should say “deranged.” Reading backwards through the text, we get the sense that something is off in the Corinthian body ecclesiastic. People are saying, “I have no need of you” (v. 21). “You are not worthy of honor” (v. 23). Members seem not to have equal care one for another. Some suffer alone; others rejoice alone (counter to v. 26). The glue (or as my Papua New Guinean friends pronounced it “gulu”) is missing. There is wholesale “part-to-whole” confusion; a lot of noses with only legs, torsos without hands.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Disagreeable
There is too little “gulu,” but no shortage of gurus. Many take on the role of Organizing Principal [sic]: “I heal–follow me”; “I teach–follow me”; “I organize–follow me.” In the ensuing administrative fission, the One who really is to be followed, the One upon whom “the Spirit of the Lord” rests (see the corresponding gospel text in Luke 4:14-21), disappears from consideration. (Always was a dark horse, anyway.) The Corinthians are detached from the head, and that accounts for their lack of proper arrangement.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Dismembered
“Dead” is, of course, not properly speaking a “diagnosis” for any illness, so let’s call death “dismemberment” here. One is never quite so dead as when one is dismembered. (PNG warriors sometimes take the time to hack a victim into small pieces, as if to underline-bold-italicize the death.) Paul is gentle about this reality, although highly suggestive. In verse 17 he says delicately, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?” (Answer? Dead.) But if we don’t call this “Final Diagnosis” but instead “Cause of Death,” it is all the same. Paul is clear: Even our weakest members are “indispensable,” and without the indispensable we ourselves are dispensable. God made it that way. Read his lips.


Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – (Re-)Membered
But notice that even as Paul addresses the discombobulated Corinthians, he indicates to them that they “are” (present tense) the body of Christ, and they “are” one body (v. 27). They “have been baptized into” one body (v. 13). Just as God remembered Christ when he lay in the grave dead, so it is with the body-we are remembered (by Christ and for each other). Where there was only death, God creates life through Christ, in the Spirit. If it is true that a fish rots from the head down, the opposite is true with Christ: Where Christ is the head the community comes to life from the head down! (Read Christ’s lips in the Luke 4 reading!)

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – Agreeable
Because we are remembered in Christ, we are also reattached to the whole body and reinvigorated. Now the community looks to the head (Christ) to be their head. We drink and drink–thank you, neck!–of the one Spirit (v. 13). Note that Paul does not say in verse 12 “so it is with the Church”; he says, “so it is with Christ.” Christ is not some Italian label on a Shanghai product. Christ is our unity–he is who we are. To agree with this is to agree with our very constitution. Because Christ is, we are.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Arranged
“God arranged . . . as he chose,” Paul says (v. 18). The “arrangement” is not a simple one, like seating an orchestra or organizing a car parts store. There is asymmetry (honoring the dishonorable, etc.) but there is also complementarity (vv. 23-25). And joy, oh joy, we get to suffer together!! Oh, yes, and rejoice together as well (v. 26). This “arranging” is not mere code (“an eye for an eye”)–although the code (when read aright) may help us distinguish between fatal disarrangement and vital diversity. No, this arrangement is “an I for an I,” or, as Dumas might have yelled: “One for all and all for One.” We enjoy euphony, glory, even terrific smells (since the nose has not been neglected). How good it is to be together!


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