Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if every person were the same? If we all had the exact same talents, and the exact same deficiencies? If everyone was a good cook but a bad cleaner, we’d all be dead from bacteria in our garbage. If everyone was a good cleaner but a bad cook, we’d all die from starvation or malnutrition. That’s why it’s good that some people are good at cooking, and others good at cleaning.
The farmer who grows food is very important because he provides the food we eat. But he is not more important than the truck driver, who gets the food to the market. Without the truck driver, the food would never get from the farm to our supermarket. But the truck driver is not more important than the person who puts the food on the shelves. Without the stock person, there is no food for us to buy.
The same can be said of the doctor versus the sanitation engineer. Without the doctors, we can’t stay healthy. Without the people who pick up our trash, we can’t stay healthy either.
Part of what afflicts each of our souls is the notion that we are not good enough, or what we do doesn’t matter as much as what other people do, that others are ahead and we are behind. In this service of healing of soul and body, this Epistle passage taken from I Corinthians 12 states the fact that each of us is different, and that is a good thing. In the verses that immediately preceded this passage, St. Paul writes:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should 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 should 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. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as He chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (I Corinthians 12:14-26)
We know that our bodies were designed by God with literally thousands of parts and systems working together for us to be alive. I watched a biology video once about how when a person is bleeding, two hundred things take place within a body to stop the bleeding. If any of those two hundred things doesn’t work, a person could die from a simple paper cut.
Our society, according to Saint Paul, is like a large body. There are thousands of systems that need to work in unity in order for the society to work. When these things do not work, then society fails. We may question why we have a certain role and not a different role. However, St. Paul encourages us to embrace our role as part of the body of society and do our part so that our society is healthy and functioning. Whether that part is as a plumber, or an engineer or a nuclear physicist, it doesn’t matter in the eyes of God. One part may seem to have more prestige in the eyes of society, but all are honored in the eyes of God.
Saint Paul continues, in the passage we hear at Holy Unction, to say that just as there are different roles in society, there are also different roles in the Church. He mentions apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, healers, helpers, administrators, and speakers of various kinds of tongues. (I Corinthians 12: 28) In our modern context, we have priests, choir members, administrators, teachers, and all kinds of helpers. Not everyone in the Church has the same role. However, everyone in the Church can have a role, as there is a need for all kinds of helpers. And just as we shouldn’t value one member of the body over another, and one role in society over another, we shouldn’t value one member of the Church more than another, because all members are important and all roles are important. Each of us has a role to play in furthering the message of the Gospel, which is something we probably don’t think about as much as we should.
The message of this passage is that no matter who we are, what we are good at, and what we do, we all matter in the eyes of God, and we will all be rewarded by God if we play our role in the body—of society and of the church. As we seek to be healed in soul and body, part of that healing is for the wounded ego that questions our role and our value, that perhaps doubts we are making a difference. This passage is actually a message of encouragement—we all matter, what we do matters to God, and it should matter to each other.
Going back to the body, no one compliments a person’s big toe. It’s the hair and the eyes that get complimented the most. However, try standing without a big toe. No one notices a person’s ankles. People notice faces and waistlines. Take away the ankles and a person can’t walk. No one can see a beating heart. However, stop that heart from beating and a person isn’t alive. The message is that everyone has a different part and all parts are needed. The healing is the restoration of confidence to embrace our role and play it to the best of our ability. In doing so, we please God and we serve others.
One more critical thing to remember. It is God who calls us to our respective roles. He calls some to be teachers, others to be doctors, He calls others to be good with their hands and do mechanical things. I believe that He called me to be a priest. If we are people of faith, it is important to understand and accept that our roles, our talents, are gifts from God. And so a big part of what we do is not only helping our world but being faithful to what God has called each of us to do.
Who shall declare your grandeur, O Virgin? For you abound in wonders, pouring forth streams of healing, and interceding for our souls, as learned in wisdom Divine, and as the friend of Christ. (Troparion)
Embrace your role that God chose for you and do it to the best of your ability!