By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Epistle
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The Church as the Body of Christ

Genesis 18:1-10 Colossians 1:24-28 Luke 10:38-42

William Barclay, a famous Bible scholar, has this beautiful illustration of the relationship between Christ and the church:

Suppose a great doctor discovers a cure for cancer. Once that cure is found, it is there. But before it can become available for everyone, it must be taken out to the world. Doctors and surgeons must know about it and be trained to use it. The cure is there, but one person cannot take it out to all the world; a corps of doctors must be the agents whereby it arrives at all the world’s sufferers.

That precisely is what the church is to Jesus Christ. It is in Jesus that all people and all nations can be reconciled to God. But before that can happen, they must know about Jesus Christ, and it is the task of the church to bring that about. Christ is the head; the church is the body. The head must have a body through which it can work. The church is quite literally hands to do Christ’s work, feet to run upon His errands, and a voice to speak His words.

The identity of Christ with the church was the first lesson that Paul learnt in his life as a Christian. Before his conversion Paul, then known as Saul, saw Christians as a bunch of infidels deserving of death. When Christ appeared to him in a vision as he rode to Damascus to persecute the Christians there, Christ’s first words to him were: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) The voice came from heaven, so how could Saul be persecuting Christ on earth? Paul then understood that the heavenly Christ and the earthly church are one and the same thing. What you do to the church you do to Christ.

The vison on the way to Damascus taught Paul that even though Christ was already enjoying divine glory with the heavenly Father, it was still possible for him to suffer through the suffering of Christians. That is how Paul came to the realization that the church is the body of Christ. When he says in today’s second reading from the letter to the Colossians that “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Colossians 1:24),” he does not mean that the suffering of Christ by which he redeemed us was deficient. He only meant to underline the fact that so long as Christians are suffering persecution in this world, Christ was still suffering, in his body, that is. When we realize that Paul wrote this letter from prison (verse 4:3) in Rome where he and other Christians were still being persecuted for their faith, then we see why he understands their suffering as Christ’s ongoing suffering. When Christians suffer, Christ suffers.

Paul says of the church, “I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you (verse 1:25).” For Paul being a servant of Christ and being a servant of the church are one and the same thing. There is no separating Christ and the church. What you do for the church you do for Christ.

There is a funny game in which people are asked, “If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be, and why?” Some say they would like to be a mango, delicious and irresistible; others that they would love to be an apple, hard but good for your health, and yet others a cactus fruit, thorny on the outside, but delicious in the inside. Today, we could play a similar game. If you are the body of Christ, what part of Christ’s body are you? Are you Christ’s feet bringing him to other people, like the Eucharistic ministers bringing Holy Communion to the sick? Are you Christ’s hand wiping away the tears of the afflicted or helping to put a roof over the head of the homeless? Or are you Christ’s mouth announcing Good News to the poor? As a church we are Christ’s body. As an individual, what part of Christ’s body are you? What are you contributing to the well-being of Christ in his body, the church? Each of us is invited to answer this question for himself or herself today.

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