For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would 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 would 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 the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. […]
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 deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, 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 in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Cor. 12:12-20, 27-31
Jan. 27, 2019
Sloths do not have opposable digits. I do not recall how this became a significant bit of family knowledge; probably some PBS nature documentary. The significance of the sloths’ lack of thumbs manifests in a particular practice: when having to stand on the Metro, my husband and daughters hold the grab bars with their thumb and fingers all curved in the same direction rather than grasping the bar firmly within a round formed of thumb, palm, and fingers.
“We don’t want to show off our opposable thumbs,” my husband explained, the first time I noticed this peculiarity. “Sloths might be jealous.” Our girls found this absolutely hilarious. As much in recollection of their mirth as a desire to not incite sloth-envy, I sometimes find myself — even alone — reenacting that peculiar modesty, and holding the grab bar in a way that does not show off my opposable thumbs.
Thumbs matter. I may choose to not use my thumb’s opposability — in deference to sloths’ sensibilities — but it does not cease to be a functional thumb, ideally suited for grasping transit grab bars or holding a pen or whatever. Its function is just not being fully realized. The thumb’s full thumb-ness (is that a word?) comes in its interaction with the rest of the hand: the fingers it reaches across the palm to touch; the palm itself, that fleshy center, from which all five digits splay and wiggle and stretch and hold on to the world.
We are all members of one body, the apostle Paul writes the church in Corinth. Already.
Paul is not instructing them to become something new but reminding them of what they have already become: one body. Paul is urging them to live it. (No thumb modesty enjoined!).
“We were all baptized into one body,” Paul writes. “You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” Paul claims identity with all and with each of them, a membership no more nor less than that of Chloe or Stephanos or Crispus or Gaius.
Every part is fully part of the whole; every part is equally significant to the whole; every part matters in the whole. And every part needs to live in the whole to be most fully itself.
A whole that is greater than the sum of all its parts: the community, the body of Christ.
I matter to the body. I matter in the body. Thumb or palm or fingers. Apostle or prophet or teacher. The identity has already been given. I do not need to seek it but only to see it. To see it and to live it in the body, with all those others whose names and shapes and work are different from my own. And without whom my own identity cannot be fully known, without whom God’s gift to me, of me, cannot be entirely experienced. Without whom I cannot splay and wiggle and stretch to touch the world, living into the greater gift, the more excellent way, love.