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 were to 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 were to 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.
Paul's letters to the churches that he established provide encouragement, answer questions, and often address problems he had become aware of within those communities. According to Acts, Paul established the church in Corinth, the most important city in Greece at that time, in about the year 50. He wrote this letter a few years later from Ephesus, and in it he addressed three types of divisions within the community: between factions based on who their mentors were (Paul, Apollos, Peter); between the importance of those with and without certain "spiritual gifts;" and between the rich and the working class. This passage is from the part of the letter that addresses the second of these divisions.
Using the human body as a metaphor for the Body of Christ, Paul illustrates the importance of each part of the body in making the organism work. The senses perceive the world around the body. The head processes the information from the senses and decides what should be done. The hands and feet carry out those decisions. All those members are important and must work in harmony for the body to function, and that won't happen if they don't respect each other's role in the process. That's all pretty straightforward. But then Paul introduces a slightly different idea. He states that parts of the body seem to be weaker, less honorable or less respectable, but we treat them just the opposite of how one would expect. Without going into detail as to exactly what parts of the body he's referring to here, it's clear that they're all important-what affects one, affects all.
The message to the Corinthians, and, of course, to us is that there are no unimportant members of the congregation, because individual importance derives from being a child of God. It's good to contribute generously to the church. It's good to lend a beautiful voice to the choir. It's good to dedicate time to leading or teaching. But none of that makes a person more important in God's eyes, and it shouldn't in our eyes either. The church is one place (perhaps the only place) where respect doesn't have to be earned. Each person is loved and respected-no ifs, ands, or buts. It just couldn't be simpler...or more profound.
Let us pray: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for allowing us to be a part of your body. Help us to respect and love each and every person who joins us in our faith. Amen.