Body parts

The covid pandemic has taught us, again, how much we rely on other people. It is not so much the cutting edge medical discoveries – though we have been glad of rapidly developed vaccines – but the more mundane. Accident and emergency services, hospital care, key workers delivering food and taking away the rubbish – all the “ordinary” people have come into their own and had the vital work seen for what it is.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, when Paul compares the Christian community to a body (1 Cor 12. 12-31a), with diverse parts, but a unity found in their cooperation and coordination. Part of what we have learnt in the last couple of years is the equal importance of all the units. No matter how brilliant the physician, the work of the nurse, PPE supply chain driver, and oxygen system engineer are all equally vital for survival.

The church always has difficulty coming to terms with this (as do many other organisations). The creation of heirarchy, so that the “most important” may take precedence and reward, is always tempting. Yet the more frail and hidden parts of the body all have their place, and need support.

The problem comes in determining what is part of the body, and what is alien – whether infection, splinter, or worse. The Christian community is not the whole of society, though it welcomes all who wish to join. But there are those who do not wish to join, and will not accept the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

We face a similar problem with Covid. How are we to deal with those who not only decline treatment for themselves, but deny any need, and endanger others by spreading infection and discouraging safety measures?

Clearly there is a need to be charitable and patient as far as possible. But the Christian community has always needed to define its boundaries – which means that some are beyond them, at least for the time. Heresy is dangerous (whether as wrong belief or wrong action) because it causes harm. The body is weakened, and needs to take measures to recover. Jesus would seem to agree (Mark 9:47 and parallels), but the need to be charitable, to be sure that we have understood the belief and intention of others, remains.

There is a fashionable emphasis on “inclusion”, the importance of which is well illustrated in this lesson. The need to welcome all who would come to faith, and encourage them in the process of responding to the gospel, is of first importance in the Christian “body”. (And even more so because we have often forgotten this in the recent past). Sadly though, some will not wish to accept the yoke of Christ, the obligations of a disciple, their place among others. None of us are free to demand our own terms of acceptance, or to imagine that we are to instruct, rather than obey, the one we call Lord. Inclusion is important, but in a fallen world, not all will be included, however well our love reflects a God who cares for all.

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