FROM A READING FOR JAN. 24, THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable...' -- I Cor 12:21-22

As much as strict Jews traditionally emphasize keeping the 613 regulations of the Mosaic Law, it seems impossible that Ezra, in Sunday's Nehemiah (8:2-4a,5-6,8-10) reading, would have to deal with a Jewish community which knew nothing of those regulations.

Yet, Nehemiah tells us that's exactly what happened in Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile.

Though we'd expect Ezra and Nehemiah to tear into these ignorant individuals, they unexpectedly tell the people, "Do not be sad, and do not weep....Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to Yahweh." In other words, "Just be happy you finally found out what Yahweh wants you to do!"

Those familiar with both Scripture and Church history know that Ezra and Nehemiah's experience isn't an isolated event: People of faith are always susceptible to forgetting the essentials of their faith.

Sunday's second reading (I Corinthians 12:12-30) provides us with a classic example. Back in chapter 11 of I Corinthians, Paul warns his community about the sin of "not recognizing the body" during celebrations of the Lord's Supper. We traditionally have defined this "body" as the body of Christ under the species of bread. This made sense, since many of us were taught that Pope Pius X's criterion for children receiving their First Communion revolved around their ability to distinguish eucharistic bread from regular table bread.

We are His body
Yet, once we look at chapter 12, it's clear that the body to which Paul is referring has nothing to do with bread -- it's the body of Christ found in the Christian community.

"As a body is one," the Apostle writes, "though it has many parts, all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ....Now you are Christ's body, and individually parts of it."

Though Paul states one of the most fundamental Christian truths, few followers of Jesus today know anything about it. It's far less demanding to discover the risen Jesus present in bread or wine than in one another.

When we find ourselves in the presence of the former, we certainly don't conceive of Jesus as actually being bread or wine. We conjure up our own personal images of Him. That can't happen when we attempt to discover Jesus in those other Christs around us. We're forced to experience the risen Jesus in both men and women, straight and gay, white and black, Democrats and Republicans.

Demanding role
No wonder we prefer bread over people. Like some in Paul's community, we'd like to bail out of the body of Christ. It's too complicated. If each of us is a part of His presence, which part are we? Maybe we'd prefer to be an eye instead of a foot. Yet, as Paul reminds us, "If [we] were all one part, where would the body be?"

As Luke tells us in Sunday's Gospel (Luke 1:1-4;4:14-21), as other Christs, our role is to "bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free and proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."

If, as the Gospel Jesus says, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing," then it must be being fulfilled in our day and age. It can't just be some pie-in-the-sky daydream. Perhaps we rarely carry on the historical Jesus' ministry simply because we've forgotten who we are. Be grateful we have Paul's I Corinthians passage as a reading today!