There’s an old horror movie from 1956 called Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In it, people start acting all weird. They have less emotional response to friends and coworkers. By the end of the movie, you learn that alien pods are planted by people’s beds during the night, and they push out exact body doubles of individual people, and then they destroy their originals. The affectless weird folks are really pod people and not human beings at all.
Horror movies always reflect the times they’re made in. Body Snatchers was made during the Cold War in the middle of the great conflict between the US and its western allies with the Soviet Union. The movie reflects the great “Red Scare” of the 50s, and the moral is “Look around you. Those pod people might be communists like those scary Russians.” The whole business has to do with having clear distinctions between who’s with you and who’s not. It’s a fairly common human practice: we find our allies and join with them to defend against “them,” “those other people.”
You know how it works with groups at school. In my high school in western South Dakota, we had the jocks who were the guys in sports, especially the S-Club members who’d lettered and whose moms had sewn their letters on their letter jackets. We had the cowboys whose families had cattle ranches 40 or 50 miles out on the prairies and who wore Wrangler boot-cut jeans with their cowboy boots and a worn spot on their back pocket where they kept their can of chewing tobacco. We had the hoods, who grew their hair long and greasy, skipped classes, and smoked Marlboros and other combustibles across the street from the school building. We had the popular cheerleaders. And we had the rest of us, the losers: band and theater nerds, tech geeks, wallflowers, no names, and nobodies. We couldn’t say there was much unity except when Sturgis played our rivals from Belle Fourche. We all hated the Broncs for something that supposedly happened at a basketball game 25 years before.
All this is to say that the situation for the church in Corinth that Paul is writing to shouldn’t surprise us. The community of believers in the city on the Greek isthmus wasn’t holding together. There were factions. Some people had no problem being around pagans and even ate food that had been offered to idols. Some people divided according to loyalties to Paul or to Apollos. Some thought of themselves as free from all restrictions, while other were offended by the libertines and their sexual immorality.
In the face of the breakdown of community, Paul uses the image of the body to remind the sisters and brothers of the faith in Corinth of who they are. They’re not autonomous beings disconnected from everything but their own urges. They’re not individual actors. When the Holy Spirit created faith, they became something more than they were and something less. Jesus wasn’t just creating individual believers; he was also cooking up a community that would begin to have the savory qualities of the Beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount.
The more is that they were now a body, the body of Christ. They were Jesus alive and active in the world via the Holy Spirit. Their individual differences were immaterial, and they needed to start having a bigger picture of their lives together. The community of faith had to see themselves as connected to do God’s work, and they had an important part to play in it. The less is that if someone thought too highly of themselves, it endangered the whole. It threw everything off balance and pulled the focus away from where it needed to be, from Christ to individuals.
The good news is this isn’t my body or yours. It’s Christ’s body.
Paul talks about us as body parts. Sam is the bottom rib on the right. Abeyo is a left ear lobe. Doris and Marie are sisterly kidneys, left and right. Manny is a big toe, and Esperanza is an eyeball. I am an appendix. And Bohdan might just be a butt cheek. But we’re all necessary and integral to the working of the whole.
In fact, Paul goes even further and says the members of the body who are lowest should have the greatest respect. That’s the losers, the nobodies, the cast-offs, the black sheep, and those who embarrass the family with their mistakes, failures, and belly flops. We don’t give up on ‘em because Christ needs them all.
Sometimes the body creaks and moans. There are ACL tears and cancers and viruses in the body of Christ. That can’t be denied. But the good news is this isn’t my body or yours. It’s Christ’s body. And he’ll move it, bend it, and twist it to make his kingdom happen. What’s more, he has a marvelous ability to heal himself, to take care of his body and make it whole.
Your job in it is simply to be you. That’s enough. Ear lobe, rib, big toe, or butt cheek: explore who you are. Be a rib and help the body breathe by letting in the air of freedom. Be an eyelid and protect what’s visionary. If such a body part happens to be you, eliminate waste. You don’t have to make big things happen. The body owner has that in hand just fine. He’s going to use you in your life. He might even surprise you when you’ve always thought you were a belly button or a nose hair, and he reveals you’ve been a lower lip all along.
Whatever body part you are, the body of Christ is no pod person. Together, we’re a living, breathing, deathless whole. Now, if we could only figure out what an appendix like me is good for.