Joel Elliott Mooneyhan
A Broken Body
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Continuing on from my last entry, I want to take a look at trickier passage from Paul. It isn’t tricky because of what it says, but because of the implications it has for those of us who want to take the idea of loving others seriously. Earlier in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 12, Paul compares the church to the human body, comprised of different parts with different purposes, all vital to the health and proper function of the body. You’ll find it here, and invite you to read it before continuing.
Got it? So. Most people even vaguely familiar with 1 Corinthians 12 know the riff about the variety of spiritual gifts, but for our purposes today we’re going to look at verses 12-26, particularly the last few verses in this set. Curiously, I have found a lot of people can accurately recall the gist, if not the entire text, of 12 through 21, but falter on or completely forget 22-26. One thing at a time:
“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 one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should 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 should 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 be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 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 parts, 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.’”
Now. Let’s take a breath. What Paul is saying here is obvious. In all of our differences, in all of our strengths and weaknesses, we are all equally vital to one another, even if we don’t believe it. For some, doubt manifests itself in the false idea that they have no purpose, or that their purpose is insignificant. This just isn’t the case. Your little toe might not seem important, but catch it on the leg of a coffee table and break it, and you’ll see just how important it really is.
For others, and I would say more commonly, there is the lie that they are more important than they actually are, and so they don’t need others. They view themselves as self-sufficient, and even if they do rate others at all, they rate them below themselves.
This has manifested itself even more prevalently during the past few months, with so many different issues and causes with which we can divide ourselves into “Us versus Them” categories. More than any other time I can recall, people make declarative statements on the worth and value of others simply on the basis of their political opinions, causes they care about, failures they may have had, and the ways that they cope with strange and difficult circumstances, most of which we are all dealing with together.
“I don’t want anyone in my life who believes XYZ.”
“Anyone who would say AB and C is trash.”
“If you do this, then you’re a sheep / selfish prick / ignorant fool / racist / snowflake / hippie / un-American / fascist / etc.”
“If you are this type of person, your opinion is invalid.”
And on and on and on. I’m really only slightly exaggerating, although I’ve seen and heard and been told even more bizarre things that would be hurtful if they weren’t so fundamentally reactionary and thoughtless. My point is that we are often way too quick to dismiss people out of hand without actually hearing them beyond what we think we know they believe or have experienced. It is a foolish way to behave. I’ve been a fool many times, myself.
But Paul cautions us against this sort of thinking, the sort of thinking that casts the Others as our enemies, instead of viewing them as vital parts of the body, however different their function or appearance or purpose might be from our own. It has been said that people do this out of fear—we fear the unknown and so our knee-jerk reaction is respond aggressively or violently to things that challenge our notions and threaten what we believe. That may be the case, but honestly I don’t think anyone thinks long enough or hard enough anymore to actually process fear in that way. I think it is a far more tragic turn in the human heart. I’ll let Paul speak to it and then share what I mean:
“On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
We hate weakness. We don’t like the idea of others seeing us as weak, and we don’t like the idea that we have responsibility to those who are not strong enough or privileged enough or woke enough or smart enough or whatever enough to be on our level, (as though our level is the benchmark that anyone should even aspire reach to begin with).
What has happened is that we don’t “fear” others, rather we have inflated our opinions of ourselves to the point that we think that anyone who thinks differently is not even worthy of our consideration. So when someone hears another merely utter a phrase like “black lives matter,” or “all lives matter,” we automatically form a whole picture of them based on literally nothing else, and depending on where you stand, you either write them off as a pawn in a Marxist plot to undermine society, or a racist who wants to go back to the days of Jim Crow.
To take another example, when you see a person wearing a mask into a store or not wearing a mask in a store, you might think they are either an ignorant sheep who doesn’t see the grand conspiracy to subdue us all, or that they are cavalier and reckless and are perfectly fine with getting people sick and killing them.
Still another example. You might see someone post support for Donald Trump or Joe Biden and think that they are either an alt-right shill who hates immigrants and the poor, or a Socialist liberal snowflake who wants to kill the rich and have the country living on breadlines and government handouts. Both sides believe the other will destroy the country. Go figure.
And all of this speaks to the final problem. We are deaf to the voices, experiences, and even the pain of others. It does not matter to us that even people who disagree with us have hard-fought and well-reasoned convictions. It doesn’t matter that every single person’s experiences have had a part in shaping who they are and what they believe, just as much as our own. And so we are numb to the feeling of empathy, of putting ourselves in the position of others, if even for a moment, to hear what they have to say and why they have to say it.
And so, we all suffer. Because if one member suffers, we all suffer together. If you have even so much as a bad hangnail, it can be difficult to focus on anything else. You might try to, but eventually, the pain will demand attention. But we have cauterized ourselves from ever having to feel the pain of another. And when you are numb enough to pain, you may not even realize how badly you are injured.
People everywhere are in various stages of pain and healing. We cannot go on numb to that in others, lest others become numb to it in us. There is plenty of pain and anger and frustration and outrage to go around. It would be better for all of us to start feeling each other’s pain together so that we can find the sources of our wounds, give them the attention that they require, and become whole again.
This does not come at the expense of our dignity, (although we all think too highly of our dignity), but it comes at the fullness and wholeness of all of us together. Putting others before yourself, listening to and trying to understand the viewpoints of others, empathizing with their pain even if you do not agree with their outlook, does no harm to you. As Paul says, “When one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
And speaking fo dignity, there is one last piece to this I want to share. Watch this space to find out. Until then, y’all take care and be good to one another.
This is part two of a three-part series. If you'd like to catch up, go here for part one, and go here to read the conclusion.