Sometime in the 50s AD St Paul wrote two Letters or Epistles to the Church in Corinth, which he had founded. In the passage we are reading today, Paul responds to the problem of divisions that had arisen there between the community members.
Paul tackles the issue by comparing the Christian community there with a human body. He suggests that just as a human body is made up of many parts – limbs, organs etc – so too a church community, like ours here at Holy Name, has its many and varied parts or members. Just as a single component like one’s arm (or heart or eye) has an important part to play in the working of a whole human body, so each individual Christian has an important part to play within his/her community. And as a physical human body needs all its ‘parts’ to work together for the good of the person, so also the members of a Church body must work together for the good of their community.
Because if they don’t, their community will cease to be what St Paul calls the ‘Body of Christ’. For Paul, a Christian community in its particular location is the physical representation of Jesus or his Body on earth. The community’s success as the functioning Body of Christ, therefore, depends on its members working together for a common goal, recognising that each member has a role to play in its mission.
What is the mission?
In brief, it is to carry on the very mission Jesus declared when he opened his ministry in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-21). There he used these words of the Prophet Isaiah to explain his purpose:
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.
It’s worth asking why, of all the texts available to him, Jesus choose these words. By doing so the Church teaches that he was expressing a ‘preferential option for the poor’. He would move not among the celebrities or exalted figures of his time but among the poor, captives, the blind and downtrodden.
It is the task of the worldwide universal Body of Christ and each parish that is a member of it to embrace this manifesto of Jesus. We must, as Pope Francis is constantly reminding us, be a Church ‘of the poor for the poor’. This is our collective mission and it must be before us and every community that deems itself Christian. And each member is called to contribute – as best we can – to making this possible.
As we hold our parish’s Annual General Meeting today, we might ask how well we, among all our commitments, collectively serve this mission Christ has given us. Is there more we – ALL – can do to be a more effective form of the Body of Christ, and to be so without the pettiness, jealously and rivalry that caused such division in Corinth?
Thank you to all who contribute in small ways and large to building up and sustaining this, our Body of Christ, community, not least those of you who serve it in a variety of ways. What would we do without you who generously share your time and talents for the good of our community and its work?
I appreciate that there are many who’d like to be more involved but at present their work, family and other commitments have to take priority (and rightly so). If this is so for you, don’t forget that in honouring these commitments and carrying them out selflessly, you already are serving Christ in an important way. Of course if your circumstances change at any time, you are welcome to offer your services.
If for health or other reasons you cannot play a formal role in parish life, your support of this community – spiritually and financially – is vital: you enable it to do its good work and do it in your name. And let me emphasise again that by taking part in our community Sunday Mass – even if this is all you can do – you are carrying out a very important role in our Church. With fellow members of the Body of Christ, you are sharing in the offering of Jesus which he made on our behalf to God the Father and which we commemorate in this and every Mass. Sunday Mass, after all, is what the Church calls ‘the source and summit’ of our Christian life.
In this Body of Christ at Holy Name – whatever your level of commitment – everybody matters. Nobody is rubbish. Everybody matters and everybody is welcome to play a part according to their circumstances.
Holy Name, Jesmond
27 January 2019