Fingers and Toes


1 Corinthians 12:12-31   Luke 4:14-21

3rd Sunday after Epiphany

What is the best part of your physicality?  Is it a strong jaw, or thick hair, or muscular legs? What is your least favorite part of your body? As I have gotten older, the list of my not so favorite parts has grown. In recent decades, people’s perception of their bodies has become increasingly important to them, even to the point of affecting personal happiness. Cosmetic surgery is on the rise. Oh, the things people do to themselves! And then show it all on YouTube!

The magazine Psychology Today reports:

When most people think of body image, they think about aspects of physical appearance, attractiveness, and beauty. But body image is so much more. It’s our mental representation of ourselves; it’s what allows us to contemplate ourselves. Body image isn’t simply influenced by feelings, and it actively influences much of our behavior, self-esteem, and psychopathology. Our body perceptions, feelings, and beliefs govern our life plan—who we meet, who we marry, the nature of our interactions, our day-to-day comfort level. Indeed, our body is our personal billboard, providing others with first—and sometimes only—impressions.[1]

A distorted body image is one of the factors in anorexia and bulimia.  An extreme concern with developing muscles leads to over-exercising. The most common eating disorder in the United States is binge-eating.Eating disorders can begin in childhood.  Although the rates of these illnesses are higher in women, men are not exempt. [2] We tend to judge ourselves more harshly than we do others.  We fail to see how amazing God made each one of us, from our heads down to each cell.

Our bodies are amazing, and tremendously complicated.  Our cells contain a nucleus with a membrane, ribosomes, Golgi apparatus, DNA, RNA, and mitochondria, just to name a few of the structures.  Each one has a specific function. In fact, mitochondria are an “organelle,” a cell within a cell.  Without mitochondria and Golgi apparatus, among other parts, we might be simply a bacteria.  The key is that each part of us works with the other parts of us.  Not only is that necessary for our survival, our body parts join together to accomplish more than each part can alone.  Our parts are different, and yet work together.

This is how God created us, and the example of our bodies is what St. Paul used when he wrote to the people of Corinth.  Their questions and differences with regard to worship, ethics, and spiritual gifts led to quarreling in the community.   Using the metaphor of the human body, St. Paul tells of talking eyes and hands. “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.”  Central to Paul’s comments is that people were comparing the “worth” of their spiritual gifts with one another.  Comparing leads to ranking.  This grows to a perception that some are better than others.  If some people are better, then some are thought of as less.

Inherent in Paul’s images are those who think higher of themselves than God would have them.  Also included are those who don’t value themselves.   Henri Nouwen challenges our self-image in what he terms, “The Five Lies of Self-Identity.” [3]   These five lies are:

I am what I have,

I am what I do,

I am what others say or think about me,

I am nothing less than my best moment,

and

I am no better than my worst moment.

God has created us, and we are God’s beloved. There is no hierarchy in God’s kingdom, even though we rank people according to their social station, their level of education, or their financial holdings.   It is tempting to value those whose work for God is visible more highly than we do those whose acts we do not know.  The one who preaches is no more important than the person quietly praying in the pews, or the one in a care facility whose very presence witnesses to God.  Paul asks, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of smell be?” God’s economy is not like ours. It’s hard for us to value a nose hair as much as we do the nose.  That we are separate is an illusion.

Jesus encounters that kind of thinking when he preached in his hometown.  He declared that God’s favor rests on society’s lowest–the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed.  He declares God’s release to the captives, and the freedom of the oppressed.  Just as God’s economy is different than our society’s, so is the freedom God brings through Jesus. We are set free from the judgement of others, and free from proving ourselves worthy. We are set free from sin and death.  In the waters of baptism, God joins us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.[4]

Jesus challenges the powerful and encourages the powerless.  Jesus’ deliverance alters the status quo. As comforting as this is, it is also disconcerting when the world with which we are most familiar is shaken up. But we never go it alone.  God has joined us together—the weak and the strong, the tall and the short, blacks and whites.  God draws us together into one body through the sharing of broken bread, the prayers we have lifted up for one another, and the singing of our alleluias and kyries.  As fingers and toes, and noses, we are all one body in Christ, each of unique in giftedness, each of value.  As Jesus says, “Today, this very day,  this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

[1]https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/199702/body-image-in-america-survey-results

[2]https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml

[3]https://twitter.com/henrinouwen/status/1023714857219186688?lang=en See also Brene Brown’s TED Talks.

[4]ELW page 227.  Holy Baptism.  See also Luther’s Small Catechism, explanation of The Sacrament of Holy Baptism.


About Pastor Cheryl Griffin

Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin thinks God has a sense of humor for leading her into ministry, but can’t imagine doing anything else! Pastor Griffin received her BA degree from the College of William and Mary. She worked as an accountant before God led her to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, where she received her Master of Divinity degree. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Griffin is a member of the Ministerium Team and frequently leads small groups at synod youth events. She is also a representative to the VA Synod Council.