Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV)
Parking my hand-me-down Chevy Vega at the high school each morning reminded me of my place among my peers. In my mind, the shiny convertible BMWs and Alpha Romeos screamed “You farm girl outsider!” Although I excelled academically and athletically (yes, cheerleading is a sport!), I didn’t live in a prestigious Miami suburb or share that lifestyle. Feeling ‘less-than’ impacted my self-image well into my 30’s.
Belonging to a well-functioning body of Christ would have sounded like good news – each member equal, valued and essential. The Apostle Paul’s original audience also proclaimed it as Good News (aka the Gospel).
The hierarchical class structure of 1st century Greco-Roman culture assigned status according to your family name or your association with a social group. The entire family or group held the same status, worked together to maintain that status, and knew their rank compared to others. Maintaining your family’s place above another or advancing upward required constant striving. Every decision brought either honor to your family or a shameful status demotion.
Does this exhausting striving to achieve sound familiar?
Funding a large civic project assured long-lasting recognition. By associating with and doing favors for such a wealthy patron as his sponsored client, one could achieve higher status. A client boasted loudly about his patron’s accomplishments, both to boost his patron’s status and to gain importance as the patron’s associate.
Most people in the 1st century Roman Empire were barely subsisting and a third of the population were slaves in a system very different from American slavery. A man might fall into debt, sell himself into slavery, yet still live with his family. When the debt was repaid, he might choose to remain forever in the service of his master or become a freedman. Unfortunately the shame of having been a slave never wore off.
Because Jesus treated every person equally, the outcast embraced Jesus’ radical message. When Paul’s young churches adopted this body-of-Christ model, the loving acceptance especially appealed to those at the low end of the power spectrum. No more striving for position! Even the powerful felt freedom from keeping up appearances.
Join us! We can’t be whole without you! Every member is just as important as our most generous donor.
Good news? You betcha!
Last week I encouraged you to recognize your own value as an equal and necessary member of Christ’s body. Today, I challenge you to look around.
Is there someone who needs to receive this validating, loving Good News?
When we welcome the poor, the prisoner, or the stranger into our community, we invite Jesus himself. We are one body, one family, brothers and sisters of Christ and each of us has an important purpose.
Read earlier posts about how Jesus upends the Empire in the 1st and 21st centuries. His Kingdom has a completely different power pyramid.