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JANUARY 27, 2013: THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
I Corinthians 12:12-30
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

A good scriptural rule of thumb is that the bigger the problem, the more space the sacred author devotes to confronting it. When it comes to recognizing the body of the risen Christ among us, very little is said biblically about discovering that body in the Eucharistic bread and wine. On the other hand, whole chapters of Paul's letters are given over to surfacing that body in the Christian community.

It takes little effort to believe Jesus is present in the former. No skin off my teeth to say he's in the bread and wine. Such a belief entails just a few intellectual and practical implications; adjustments that have little effect on how I live my daily life. Because I believed the bread had been replaced by Jesus, I bowed my head when I passed a Catholic church, genuflected before I went in my pew, kept reverential silence before, during and after Mass, and would never think of touching the host. That was about it.

But it takes a lot of effort and often entails more biting intellectual and practical implications to believe he/she is present in the everyday people who come in and out of our lives. No wonder Paul gives so much space to dealing with that particular issue.

His basic thesis: "You are Christ's body, and individually parts of it." (Remember, "Christ" for Paul means the risen, not the historical, Jesus.) Belief that all followers of Jesus comprise the body of Christ isn't just some pious Christian afterthought - something we can explore for extra credit. Recall that Paul stated in the previous chapter that only those who recognize the body of Christ in one another should be permitted to receive the Eucharistic body of Christ. It's one of the essentials of our faith. "As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ."

Each of us has been gifted by the Holy Spirit with the necessary talents to make that body a reality in all we do and experience. Since we're the body of the risen Christ, not the historical Jesus, we, like him/her, are a new creation. There's no longer a distinction between Jew and Gentile, slave or free, male or female. There are no "preexisting conditions" determining which gifts are given to which person. The only condition is that we use our gifts for the "benefit" of all in the community. And next week we'll learn how we are to package each of our gifts to make it a benefit, not a detriment to the community.

If we're actually trying to become the body of Christ, then, as Jesus announces in today's gospel pericope, we're expected to join in fulfilling Third-Isaiah's mission to bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and proclaim a year acceptable to Yahweh. Quite a job! Those who only recognize Jesus' presence in the bread and wine are theologically off the hook.

After almost 50 years of ministering as a priest, I'm convinced many of my fellow Catholics have yet to understand their privileges and their responsibilities which flow from being a member of the body of Christ. When that insight eventually hits, I trust they'll take Nehemiah's advice, "Do not be sad, and do not weep.....Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks ... For today is holy to Yahweh." Any day we discover what God expects of us is "other," just as the rest of our lives will then also be holy, different from other lives, as the risen Jesus expects them to be.