Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
There’s a lot of talk these days about independence, self-sufficiency, and ‘my body, my choice.’ Whether people are referring to financial arrangements, homesteading, or vaccination, there is an underlying assumption that each person, or at most each family, is an individual unit, independent of anyone else and free to choose how to live. This is not, however, consistent with Christianity.
The Apostle Paul is clear on this. Like it or not, those who have been baptized into Christ are now members of one body. As he writes, ‘If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body … And if all were a single member, then where would the body be?’ (12:15-16, 20). Those of us who have been baptized into Christ belong to a larger body of diverse members, and what affects one member of the body affects the whole. Just as a bad back can affect temper, tongue, mobility and bowel movements, so too do the experiences and choices of each member affect the whole.
So membership of the body comes with responsibility: and Christ’s body has its own priorities. We might think that the tongue or the hand are the most important members. They are publicly visible; they have clear and important functions; through speech and touch they communicate and interact with the world. Surely, then, they should be granted special privilege and be able to do as they choose. But not so in the body of Christ: ‘On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour … God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member.’ (12:22-24).
Paul lived at a time of strict social hierarchies, when men had absolute power. Women, children and slaves had no rights whatsoever; and people with disabilities or skin diseases were thrown out of town and banned from interacting with others. So Paul is turning these hierarchies upside down: for he is telling us that the ‘inferior’ or ‘weaker’ members, which in Paul’s worldview includes children and people with disabilities, are indispensable and must be greatly honoured and carefully protected. Like Christ, who emptied himself of power and took on the form of a slave, those of us with social freedoms and power to choose are called to set aside our rights, privileges and preferences in order to honour and protect the weaker members of the body.
And why has God ordered the body in this way? ‘That there be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, they all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.’ (12:25-26). We experience this mutuality every time we gather as a body and share our trials and joys. One has had surgery and is struggling with pain, loss and other people’s demands: together we pray and grieve. Another has had a hard-earned triumph, a long term project well received: together we pray and rejoice. But it’s not ‘just spiritual.’ How we use money, how we participate in the wider society and whether or not we are vaccinated all affect the body as a whole.
As we prepare for our state to open up, some of us are rejoicing, and we rejoice with you. But others of us, acutely aware of the consequences for children too young to be vaccinated and for people with disabilities, that is, for the most vulnerable members of the body, are anxious and afraid. We know how precious these people are, and the suffering of one member of the body affects us all.
This is why we here at Sanctuary are committed to meeting online for now, to keep our weakest and most vulnerable members safe during what is predicted to be the peak of infections. And this is why I am delighted that Sanctuary is well on the way to having all those who can be vaccinated fully vaccinated, for it is a witness that we love and care for our most vulnerable members, and are honouring and protecting them in the best way that we can.
PS – If you have any medical questions about vaccination, I encourage you to speak with your GP; but if you have any theological concerns, please, make a time and we can talk it through.
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