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Love Is One Body

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Paul: Week 1

Love Is One Body
Thursday, March 10, 2016

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. —The School of Paul, Ephesians 4:1-7, NASB

I like to picture the unity of spirit described here as an energy field, a dynamic force field, created by sharing the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Love. Here is how one of the great Pauline scholars, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, explains it:

The church differs from all other human groupings in so far as its unity is not functional but organic. Its members are not merely united by a common purpose, but share a common existence. An autonomous Christian is as impossible as an independent arm or leg. Arms and legs exist only as parts. If they are given the status of an independent whole by amputation, they are no longer an arm or a leg. For a while they may look as if they were, but corruption has begun, and they can neither grasp nor walk. The same is true of believers. Their existence is loving—“without love I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2)—which necessarily implies a relationship to another person. To love and be loved is of the essence of Christianity and is constitutive of the being of the believer. They are bound together by what makes them be what they are. Only now does it become clear what Paul tentatively envisaged when he said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). [1]

For Paul, this is what he means by Christ: the participatory mystery of Jesus continued through space and time in us. As Paul says to the Athenians, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This is similar to France’s motto of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” Paul is naming what we eventually will call the “communion of saints” in the Apostles Creed. This “energy field” is created by all those who pass love back and forth and is thus an infinitely expanding force field. The “church” was intended to be the group that consciously lived and exemplified this different quality of being. The church’s vocation is a privilege, like Israel’s itself, to bring God’s work to visibility and possibility. But also like Israel we made ourselves into a chosen elite—a country club for the saved—instead of a neon sign pointing beyond ourselves.

When Paul addresses his letters to “the saints” he is clearly not speaking of the later Roman idea of canonized saints. He is speaking of the living communities of love who make up his audio-visual aids all over Greece and Asia Minor. Paul does not make heroes of individuals, but precisely as members of the Body do they “shine like stars” as “perfect children of God among a deceitful and underhanded brood” (Philippians 2:15). Following directly from Jesus, Paul sees his small communities as a certain and effective “leaven” by which God will eventually change the whole debauched Roman Empire. Social scientists now tell us that Paul was unbelievably successful in a mere ten year period largely because he gave people back their dignity and self-esteem by telling them they were equally and fully “children of God.” This is still revolutionary, but this wonderful message lost most of its impact when the Church began operating as if some had that dignity and others did not.

Gateway to Silence:
My life is not about me. I am about Life.

[1] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: A Critical Life (Oxford University Press: 1998), 288.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation (Franciscan Media: 2012), disc 9 (CD).

Image Credit: Conversion on the Way to Damascus (detail), Caravaggio, 1601.  Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, Italy.
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