These are readings from the Roman Catholic Lectionary for daily Mass. I use a headline from world news to remind me what of the world in which I’m writing. The meditation is meant to arouse comment.
DEFORESTATION IN PERU PUTS LIVES AT RISK
1 Corinthians 12:12-14,27-31
Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.
Nor is the body to be identified with any one of its many parts. Now you together are Christ’s body; but each of you is a different part of it. In the Church, God has given the first place to apostles, the second to prophets, the third to teachers; after them, miracles, and after them the gift of healing; helpers, good leaders, those with many languages. Are all of them apostles, or all of them prophets, or all of them teachers? Do they all have the gift of miracles, or all have the gift of healing? Do all speak strange languages, and all interpret them? Be ambitious for the higher gifts.
Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a considerable number of the townspeople were with her. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry’ he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you to get up.’ And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Everyone was filled with awe and praised God saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us; God has visited his people.’ And this opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside.
Paul insists that the covenant people of God is not one nation like Israel, nor is it simply a collection of individuals: it is a single community in Jesus Messiah living in the love of the one God. He calls this the “body of messiah”. Jesus the Messiah, through his love for God and human beings evidenced by his crucifixion, has brought to an end the time of the Jewish religious law and inaugurated the time of the Spirit, in which all people are offered God’s presence in their hearts, and membership of his family. As children of God, they are united in Jesus Messiah, God’s son.
The new community is not an indistinguishable lump of humanity; it is made of individual men women and children, each one of whom is different and is empowered by the Spirit to offer a different gift to the community. To express this, Paul uses the metaphor of the body. Rank and status are abolished in the community of Messiah, but this not does mean sameness or disorder. Individuality is expressed and the community is structured through the function of each member as enabled by the Spirit.
Paul uses present indicative verbs to describe this community, but of course there is a distance between the blueprint and the prototype, between the calling and the response. No church, and certainly not the one at Corinth lives according to the image of the unified, functioning body. But Paul is determined that his vision should not be reduced to a mere ideal. He insists that the church’s practical arrangements and its personal relationships should be determined by the Spirit, that is, by the enabling presence of God. Sure, the qualities needed are not solely the result of human effort, that’s why they are called gifts. But members of the community can neverthless “aim” at the higher gifts. Paul is always asking how personal and communal life can be made fit to be the dwelling place of God. It is an uncompromising search. He is not setting up a new religion but rather a new humanity.
The new humanity is seen from another perspective in the story of Jesus and the dead young man. Judged by the usual standards of decency, Jesus broke all the rules. He interfered in the lives of strangers at time of grief; he interrupted a funeral; he engaged in pantomime conversation with a dead man.
But then the dead man turned out to be alive and all Jesus’ breaches of social custom were forgotten.
Are all the stories of Jesus raising the dead simply theological inventions pointing to the gift of new life in Jesus, here and after death? I think they are certainly used by the gospel writers in that way. But just perhaps, the historical Jesus was able, as other healers have been, to sense when life remained in people given up for dead, and left amongst the Palestinian villages the memory of a man ruthlessly committed to life.
We are so easily complicit with death: ignorance, superstition, taboos, neglect, as well as bigotry, greed, hatred and violence all contribute to unncessary suffering and death. Jesus can be seen as the pioneer of a new humanity committed to abudant life.