Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 12:12-30


In this section, it is not a matter of some kind of metaphoric “unity in diversity” that could be applied to any group. It is a matter of the kind of unity and diversity that exists in the body of Christ.

It is not a question of how the many can be one but how the One, Christ, can be many. This emerges from Paul’s shorthand at the end of this verse. After saying, As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, he could have said “so also the body of Christ,” meaning the Church. Instead, he says so also Christ, indicating that God’s plan since the resurrection of Jesus is that he be many: the whole Christ, including his members.

Here we strike a vein deeply rooted in Paul’s conversion experience, when the risen Lord asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). The unity of the Church with Jesus is so intimate that whatever Saul did to the least of Jesus’ brothers, he did to Jesus (Matt 25:40). This is indeed a mystery: as we saw in 6:12–20, Paul thinks of the union of Christians with Christ in realistic and, as it were, physical terms.

This becomes evident again here when he says that in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. In our way of thinking today, we would understand this as becoming members of a group, a collectivity like the student body of a school. But in Paul’s mind, if we become one, it is because each of us is joined sacramentally and bodily to the risen body of Christ.

This is clear from the following: (1) Paul’s realistic contrast between union with Christ and union with a prostitute in 6:12–20; (2) the parallelism of “body” here with “Spirit” at the end of the verse (13). If the Spirit is the Holy Spirit, then “body” would normally stand for the individual body of Christ, for it, not the Church, is the source of the Spirit. (3) The participation in the eucharistic body effects the unity of the Church (10:17).

That unity far transcends a tribal or ethnic or class unity. Traditional walls have collapsed as all became one, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons. Through the new experience, these groups found themselves to be brothers and sisters around the eucharistic table. The person of Jesus had now created a new and universal—catholic—community.


© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.