“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another… Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.”
It is one thing to say that I ought not to think too highly of myself but rather to think soberly with regard to personal self-esteem — it is one thing to say that but it is another matter to understand that Paul literally expects each and every one of us to appropriate our ability to understand what he is saying. Furthermore he expects us to behave responsibly as Christians with regard to what we understand. The phrase translated as “think soberly” means not merely “clearheaded,” but more to Paul’s point “arriving at the right judgment by being attentive and careful.” Further more this verse is highly formal in structure — one could even say that Paul is handing over a formulary, a practice, or even activities. And these activities go back to the beginning of chapter 12 where the emphasis is upon the reasonable worship of the Creator that renews, refreshes, and transforms the mind of the worshipper. The mind of the worshipper is formed as a Christian mind so that it conforms to ultimate reality, which is the worship of Jesus Christ. The upshot is that the Christian may intellectually grasp God’s perfect will. One thing I want you to see is that far from endorsing an anti-intellectualism that regards the Christian way in life as some form of super-spiritual, unmediated pietism, Paul is absolutely committed to the role of disciplined thinking as the very ground of Christian living.
Last Sunday we looked at how our desires need training and formation and how Paul is robustly confident that the worship that pleases God will also form the desires of our hearts. And I reminded you last week, the word “orthodox” does not mean believing the right thing — the word literally means worshiping the right way — (ortho) correct, (doxa) worship. Thus worship may, by the grace of God, become remedial, corrective in the sense that worship is God’s instrument of choice for our salvation and for our perfecting in grace. This week I want us to see that orthodox worship is a matter of parishioners gathering around a specific altar in a specific parish church. Our lives are gathered up, collected, re-collected over and over again around a common altar where we worship Christ our God and where Christ comes to us in the Holy Communion. And this is the perfect image and the perfect instantiation of our participation in Christ:
“For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another…”
Thus once again we see that the Christian life is best understood to be our participation in Christ. In order to grasp how we are members of one another and how the gifts mentioned in Paul’s text today are both personal and shared we have to remind ourselves of participation. The gifts flow into the Body through our sacramental participation in Christ, that is, the Messiah is the fount of the gifts; furthermore participation in Christ necessarily issues in our conscious, intentional, and responsible participation in the life of the Body which means our conscious, intentional, and responsible participation in one another’s individual, personal life. This is our common life in Christ. This is parish life.
What St. Paul could assume to be true for the Romans is true for us as well in this little parish: Christian parishioners, side by side at one another’s baptisms and the baptisms of their children and the baptisms of new converts; side by side one another worshiping the Blessed Trinity in the Holy Communion; and in a manner of speaking side by side one another visiting a homebound parishioner, providing meals for new moms and dads, or caring for the poor, the sick, the loathed and the scorned; it is because of all that, that Paul’s talk of being members of the one Body and members of one another had ultimate meaning for the Romans and it continues to have ultimate meaning for us. To commit to a parish is very much to commit to one another for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. We are, after all, spiritually married to the same spouse, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Just as your physical body is composed of members so the Church is the Body of Christ and we are members. Members as in hands, feet, eyes and ears — not members as a list of names on a roll — but members as in “body parts.” Paul’s point is that we are all members of Christ as in a living organism and a living organism is not an abstraction — it requires material, substantive instantiation: it requires a parish.
Paul drew a conclusion that perpetually eludes many Christians though his is an utterly logical conclusion: If we are members of Christ we are also “every one members one of another.” The Greek is very strong and it is as though Paul is underscoring the reality of both the Body of Christ and the reality of the individual Christian who is, as it were, a body-part of Christ. Both are important: the union of the Body and the integrity of what we call the individual human person. To not think to highly of myself may begin by realizing that I am a member of you and you are a member of me and that is our reality as members of the Body of Christ, the Church and that is specifically, really and truly known in the parish. But honestly it is a hard thing to live up to and it is a hard thing to understand because I am not you and you are not me and all we have to go on regarding our ultimate concerns with regard to one another is what we say to one another, that Jesus Christ is Lord, and what we do, that we have been baptized and partake of the Holy Communion. There is a gnostic tendency today that tries to dispense with demands and commitments of parish life by saying that what really matters is our commitment to the universal Body of Christ by which they mean something like the invisible Body of Christ. But there is no such thing as an invisible Body of Christ. We participate in the Body of Christ though our loyalty, love and worship in a specific parish. But remember that parishes are not merely local congregations — Catholic parishes are in communion with other parishes because they are in communion with Catholic bishops who are in communion with other Catholic bishops. The only possible way we may live in the Catholic Church is to live faithfully in a Catholic parish.
As I said the Christian life is best understood to be our participation in Christ. According to the first generation of Apostles the restoration of the whole universe is the destiny of creation and creation’s destiny is tethered to humanity’s destiny and humanity’s destiny is tethered to the destiny of the Body of Christ. It is important for us to remember our destiny, our finality as the Body of Christ because God has willed to bring about the restoration of all things through us. And our destiny, our finality is prayer and worship and work — our life long labor of love and worship diligently and responsibly performed in the Church till Jesus returns and restores all creation. Some of our labor of worship and prayer is immediately satisfying while much of labor of worship and prayer is unsatisfying, but being satisfying or unsatisfying is finally of no importance. What is important is our destiny and duty of worship and prayer that is root and branch a matter of our participation in Christ which also means our participation in one another:
“For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another…
Our participation is Christ is a pure gift. Through baptism into Jesus the Messiah we are born into the family of Abraham and the God of the New Covenant makes us his very own children and thus our mutual destinies are bound to the destiny of Jesus Christ our elder brother. All our personal narratives have been gathered up, collected and folded into the narrative, the life story of Jesus the Messiah. Thus baptism is the instrument by which our participation in Christ is effected. Remember that participation is not merely psychological — it is that, yes, but it is also sacramental, which is another word for the really real. The whole life of the Body of Christ, in particular the sacraments and gifts, flow from our participation, our baptism, into Christ. What we have grown accustom to call “spiritual gifts” are gifts distributed by God to individual Christian, some natural, some of a supernatural origin in Baptism, and those gifts are meant for the knitting together as well as the fostering of the growth & development each child of God in the Body of Christ which is the visible, tangible, material parish. I want to suggest to you that what we call the spiritual gifts are better thought of manifestations of the character of Christ in the Body of Christ through its members — her members, parishioners, will manifest these gifts because the members are participating in Christ and thus growing into the character of Christ. As we grow in the character of Christ, his very human and godly desires become more and more our desires. That means that the gifts are not merely of the Spirit, but rather the gifts are Christological, manifestations of the ministry of Christ and just as the Holy Spirit lit upon Jesus at his baptism, at the initiation of his ministry, so the Holy Spirit effects the gifts and character of Christ in the children of God. As we are worshipping the Messiah in the mass, standing at the Altar or kneeling in the pew, we are in Jesus and in one another in the most perfect manner possible for any of us in this life till he returns. This is the one perfection, the one perfect action, that we all may participate in repeatedly every time we celebrate the Holy Communion. And from our participation in the sacramental life of the Messiah the gifts flow into the life of the Body of Christ really and truly through the parish to all her children. And at the end of the mass, we recess out, led by the Cross of Christ held high enough for all to see by the crucifier — and exit the parish Church and return home, to your neighborhoods and the workplace, through you, the loyal Christian parishioner, his gifts of life and light are carried into the world.
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another… Be of the same mind one toward another.”