It is extremely difficult for us, embedded in an individualistic culture, really to grasp what that means. It most certainly does not mean that we are members of the same team and therefore we should play together. It does not mean that we are members of the same political party and therefore should give priority to the party’s program. It doesn’t mean anything like that. In our culture we can drop off the team or change parties. Not so for who we are after our baptisms. Our old selves are dead. We cannot go back. Our life is Christ’s life; we are Christ in our world – not as metaphor but as reality.
Paul compares us to parts of the body – the body of Christ – with eyes and liver and heart all working toward the wellness of the whole organism. But once again, it’s not just a figure of speech. It is part of the vocation of all Christians to act for the good of the whole. Such action is characterized by the virtues, the behaviors, that Paul mentions – behaviors that work their way into every sphere of our lives.
For the past several months the United States has been involved in acrimonious debate over healthcare reform. Many approaches could be taken, some likely to work better than others. I do not here advocate for any particular solution, but I ask myself what does this last third of Romans tell us about this issue? Clearly it tells us: “. . . we are all members of one another.” Any reform we undertake must embody that principle. Remember the letter of St. James that we heard on the Sundays of this past September. “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in need of daily food, and one of you says ‘Go in peace. Be warmed and filled’, without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? That faith is dead” (James 2:13–17). Do the poor and immigrant deserve health care? Wrong question! Instead: Do they need it?
God has chosen to work through humans and if we humans withhold what our brothers and sisters need, then we block God’s forgiving love from operating in our world. We should make no mistake about that. We have that fearful power. Additionally, when we refuse to help one another we ourselves suffer; we ourselves are ill and crippled. A sick heart or liver makes our whole body sick. “We are all members of one another.”
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