Aesop was a slave and storyteller who lived, tradition says, in Ancient Greece somewhere between the years 620 and 564 before the common era. Aesop’s Fables, some of you may remember, are a collection of stories attributed to Aesop that inspire the listener to reflect on the ethical dilemmas of human life.
Listen to this fable:
One fine day it occurred to the Members of the Body that they were doing all the work and the Belly was having all the food. So they held a meeting, and after a long discussion, decided to strike work till the Belly consented to take its proper share of the work.
So for a day or two, the Hands refused to take the food, the Mouth refused to receive it, and the Teeth had no work to do. But after a day or two the Members began to find that they themselves were not in a very active condition: the Hands could hardly move, and the Mouth was all parched and dry, while the Legs were unable to support the rest.
So thus they found that even the Belly in its dull quiet way was doing necessary work for the Body, and that all must work together or the Body will go to pieces.
This is the fable of The Belly and its Members, by Aesop. Roman politicians used it to inspire political, social unity, and Paul remixes it to inspire the Corinthians to be united, even as they are diverse. Following Jesus is not just about speaking in tongues; It’s also about teaching. it’s not just about being a healer; it’s also about having a prophetic voice.
There are many gifts, Paul says, and they’re all from God and all necessary for the Body of Christ to thrive.
And here we are, some 2500 years later, hearing the echos of a fable about the unity of a body, while engaging in corporate worship in multiple physical locations, behind screens, and across state lines, time zones, and even across time, itself.
We are doing this in the midst of a global pandemic, where bodies are being ravaged by an invisible invader, and our friends, families, and neighbors are deciding whether or not the care of their bodies has anything to do with the wellbeing of ours.
The fable turns the body into a metaphor. Paul turns the metaphor into the concept of Christian unity. And the pandemic shows us that metaphors and concepts mean very little to a virus.
This is challenging time to make meaning. Doing theology, which is something you and I do every time we talk about God, is a process of meaning-making. We tell these stories and we interpret them, and in the process we decide what things mean.
My struggle, and yours, too, perhaps, is that the present moment, particularly in this country, is filled with radically different concepts of reality, itself. It can feel impossible to establish agreements about what things mean. Even very basic things, like public health.
“Is the pandemic a hoax?,” for example. “Do vaccines poison us?” Answer yes to these questions, and you and I have very different concepts of reality. One is informed by data and scientific research, and the other… I just don’t know how the other reality functions.
And as Christians who do accept that science is real (I think that’s probably all of us at Grace, but I don’t know), we face a conundrum: Many (most) of the people who subscribe to a view of reality that ignores science are our religious kin.
They, too, believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
My late cousin, who died, unvaccinated, from Covid, was a Christian, like us. Different, but the same. Part of the same body. What part of the Body of Christ was he? The hand? The foot? The spleen? A misfiring neuron? What part of the Body are we? How does Paul’s body metaphor hold up?How is it helpful right now?
This is what I mean when I say, this is challenging time to make meaning.
There are so many disparate expressions of Christinaity in America that it takes a HUGE leap of the imagination to even conceive of us all as belonging to the same body.
It’s almost impossible to believe.
And now imagine how it must have felt
for the religious kin of Jesus, himself,
to hear him stand up in the middle of church,
(Temple, actually) and say,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to
bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release
to the captives and
recovery of sight
to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Today this scripture has been fulfilled
in your hearing.”
I wonder if that felt as impossible to believe
as it is to conceive of us as one body.
If we are to follow Jesus
to the cross,
we might have to stand up
and proclaim the impossible
to be true.
We might have to reach back
into the stories of the past
and remix them,
as Paul did with Aesop.
We may be separated from these two figures
by two thousand-plus years,
but our struggles are similar.
We are enduring a pandemic
and making it harder on ourselves
every time an individual pinky finger
looks at the rest of the body
and says, “I’ve got this handled on my own.”
It doesn’t work that way – it never has.
Maybe there is some comfort in knowing
that our spiritual forbearers struggled
with the very same thing.
And they also need to be
given new meaning,
just as Jesus gave new meaning
We may need to start telling a story
about the body,
and, in the name of Jesus,
make it mean something
bigger than the Church;
bigger than Christianity,
and at the same time
as small as one single body
that is at risk of infection
from a virus.
We might need to tell stories
that marry faith and science,
and to proclaim that they are true.
We might need to say,
“all must work together
or the Body will go to pieces.”
And by all, we may need to mean all.
A great multitude that no one could count,
from every nation,
from all tribes and
peoples and languages.
We may need to become universalists,
maybe just for a season or two,
in order to address a challenge
that faces every living being on the planet.
For we are all one body.
We are all interconnected.
The choices you make about your body,
about the way you use your resources,
about the way you make meaning,
have an affect on my well-being,
and in turn,
the way I do those things
has an effect on yours.
I may be a single person,
but my body is affected by yours.
I may be single person,
but I am not an individual.
How will you tell the story
of the Body and Its Members?
How big, in your imagination,
is the body that God has made?