Who Do You Think You Are?
Feast of the Conversion of Paul
“But I shall show you a still more excellent way”
1 Cor 12, 31
Yesterday we read from the twelfth chapter of Paul’s first letter to Corinth. You’re probably familiar with the reading. It’s an extremely well known passage; and, of course, it’s a very important one as well. It is here where Paul describes the Church and its members as Christ’s body and its many parts. All of us who are baptized are a part of the body of Christ. Just as each body part shares in the body’s triumphs, so we all share in the triumphs of the Lord. Every part of the body is affected by the body’s suffering, and when any one of us suffers we all suffer. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you” (v. 21) We are connected, each to each.
Every part of the Church is dependent upon all the other parts. We need to be appreciative of all the other members. There may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another (v. 25). The magnificence of this passage is that it speaks to an essential human need – the need to have purpose, the need to work for the betterment of others, the need to participate, the need to be needed.
Unhappy is the man or woman who hasn’t found a way to serve. Unhappy the one who hasn’t been used as an instrument of God’s peace. Miserably unhappy is the one who lacks humility and lives, instead, only for himself or herself. We are such social creatures that we can never be satisfied until we find our place, our role in a family, or a community, or in the Church, or in the world.
It wouldn’t be pushing the point to claim that life is composed of the duties and responsibilities we owe each other. That’s why it’s so important for us to keep encouraging each other. Giving ourselves to others is actually the source of our joy. We depend on each other for our very lives. Certainly we depend on each other for happiness! God put each one of us on this earth for a reason. We are all given a vocation – vocation is essential to our understanding of baptism – and when we succeed in our vocation we are supremely grateful.
All of this was outlined in yesterday’s passage, but I’ve chosen to quote the verse that follows yesterday’s passage. The reason I do so is because I want to tell you that as encompassing as the passage is, there are limitations to its scope. You already understand, simply because you’re human, that it’s not enough to be a little cog in a great big wheel. Each one of us is hungry for more than that – and we should be. We need to be of use, but there’s something terribly unsatisfying about being viewed only in terms of the good we can do someone, or something else. Paul goes to great lengths to assure us that each one of us is the equal to everyone else, despite appearances. Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary (v. 22) Paul goes out of his way to reassure all of us, but we’re not fully comfortable in his reassurance. We don’t want to be equal. We want to be special.
To love someone is to be eager to give them what they need. To be loved is to have someone be concerned about our needs. Love, in this regard, is an activity; but we know that love is much more than an activity. There is a better love than doing; that love is being. To love someone is to care about who they are. To love is to completely disregard advantage. I don’t really love you if I can only think of the good you do for me. I love you when I think you’re irreplaceably valuable just the way you are.
The love that we long for is the love that surpasses purpose and surpasses role. Jesus came to save the world from sin, and to take his place as its king; but that’s not why the Father loves him. The Father takes His eternal delight in the Son irrespective of what the Son can do. The Father loves Jesus because Jesus is completely loveable. Lovability is what the Father sees in him, and that’s what we should see in him as well. That’s why it’s necessary to set our sights beyond discipleship. To view Jesus as our Lord and Savior is to travel half way down the path. You haven’t yet gotten him in focus. It’s only when we appreciate Jesus as our beloved friend that we’re able to see him as the Father sees him – and that’s the way Jesus wants us to see him.
It gets better than that. The Father takes eternal delight in Jesus, and He takes eternal delight in you, too. You are completely loveable; not for the service you render the Church, not for the service you give to humanity, but simply and solely for being you. You simply can’t help but be God’s delight – but wait, there’s more! – you were created to delight each of us as well. We should all be so lucky to see you as God sees you. If our eyes were functioning properly, if we actually recognized who you really are, you would be able to say to yourself, “People light up when they see me because I make them so happy!”
God’s plan is that our world should be redeemed, that it should resound with justice and compassion. God has not lost hope in our redemption, and neither should you – particularly since you are an integral part of God’s mission to heal the world. God has given you the incredible honor of asking you to participate in the work of salvation. You’re an irreplaceable part of the team. But that’s not what makes you fabulous. You’re fabulous because God fashioned you to be cherished – cherished by God, cherished by us, cherished by yourself. Redemption is actually only God’s warm up act. You’re the main event.