Friday, January 19, 2007

Another Reflection on 1 Corinthians 12:22–26

This method (lectio divina) is turning out to be worth the effort. At the suggestion of my spiritual advisor, I'm sticking with one pass (or pericope) for several days. I think today's experience proved to me just how much one can get out of a single chapter.

As I read the whole passage (12:12–30), I found myself drawn back to the verses below:

22 On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, 25 that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.


What's particularly notable about the entire passage is that it addresses a situation all too common in the Church today: one group of people is dissatisfied with their lot in the Body of Christ and wants some other role. Because of the emphasis that some have placed on the people of the Church, as opposed to the Body of Christ as a whole, we have individuals who don't understand the various functions and roles that are needed, who see the role of the priest as superior and the active engagement of the congregant as somehow lesser. The situation hasn't changed. It's been with us since the first century. Plus c'est change...

The problem is that these people have the picture upside down. They're seeing the hierarchy from the wrong perspective. So, as Fr. Longenecker might suggest, we need to stand these people on their heads so they can see clearly. St. Paul turns the picture over himself in verse 22:

the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable


So what appears to be the lesser role in the Celebration of the Liturgy is actually indispensable. Those who come to offer the sacrifice of their daily lives are by no means the least. Yet they believe that their only dignity is in trading places with those who are called to be the lowest:

those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require.


Lest we make our priests the butt of a bad joke, we could view verses 23 and 24 as a statement about humility. Those who are less honorable, those who are here to serve, those who sacrifice all in the service of the Church are treated during the Liturgy wth greater honor. But is this because they're more important? Is it because they have "the power"? No! It's because we're honoring the One for whom these priests stand! They're standing in the place of the one who came to serve, the one who washed the feet of the Apostles, the one who died in the most humiliating fashion! The place of honor is not because the priest has the power but because the priest is supposed to come to serve us, the way that Christ served us.

So why all the pomp? Why do we have vestments and gold and finery to remember something that took place in an upper room amidst far more humble circumstances? St. Paul tells us why:

But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, 25 that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.


The priest assumes the role of One who came to serve us, to die for us, to give all for us. In that role, we invest our love because of the treasure that the sacrifice (once and for all) brought to us. That's why we show this honor and reverence during Mass. That's why we don't want common ceramic chalices and wooden platens. Because the reality of that sacrifice is now exposed to us in its real glory. It's not the priest we honor in this fashion. The priests honors us by serving us, which is precisely what Christ did at the Last Supper.

So how else do our clergy serve us? Well, if they take their model from the Apostles, then they safeguard the doctrine of the faith. They hand down what has been handed to them. They exhort us to live lives of sacrifice, morality, and love. They don't lord it over their parishioners. They don't use the Mass as a means of self-expression. That's what Christ meant when he said, "So the last will be first, and the first last."

What does dissent do to us, particularly when it's dissent borne of pride and self-centeredness? It leads to pain, division, anger, and loss of love. We all suffer when our leaders don't lead us with due care: "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together."

Our Church suffers when its members try to be what they're not, when they reject the role they have for the one that seems more elevated, or even, perhaps less exhalted. We need to remember God's plan in all of this, "that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another."

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