It was a commercial on television, a long time ago, decrying the over-processed way one chain made their chicken products while another lauded that the product they served was actually recognizable as chicken. The tag line for the campaign was, "Parts is parts." It wanted to highlight the fact that processed homogeneity in foodstuffs (and, by extension) in life is not to be desired. I also attempted to draw down on the fact that something that is not recognizable as a part of something has no business calling itself that thing--and that each part has a function that contributes to our sense of that thing as a whole being.
We struggle with that concept when it comes to being Church, and from the outset we continue to brace against the call of God to be a member of the Body that is Christ Jesus. Being a member of a body, as Paul sets up the concept, means being a unique part, possessing a unique role; but no one part reserves the right to demand homogeneity from the other parts, nor can any one part say that it is more necessary to life than the other. All well and good, but where does our current cultural emphasis on the inviolable nature of our personal autonomy hope to connect with that call to be one part of a whole being, a whole matrix that is by constitution the representative model of what it means to have life in Christ? Simple put, there really is no such thing as an individual Christian. There is only community in Christ.
We cannot exist as a gathering of individuals, even when we might share an assumed common purpose. We have to be willing to be knit together into one being, with each person fulfilling the roles and functions God has anointed us with---what is individual? The unique place each one of us inhabits. The rub? That we are only able to realize that deeper sense of self in community when we see that our personal call is interdependent with our fellow members' realization of their calls.
If we are willing to go to that place of interdependence, and Paul wants us to understand this in this chapter in order to have this whole letter make any form of sense, then our sense of being changes. We really do become parts of one whole Body in Christ. Hands, feet, heart, mind, kidney....even the appendix...all have important functions in a single human body. In the same way, each member of the Church is (when willing) inextricably bound in covenant to the other constituting members. We are not one until all are present, and we are not one until all are willing to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
That process forges in us an awareness that being Church has to come first, long before the Church can do anything. As well, it inculcates in us a lesson that is always in need of being learned and relearned...that there is no such thing in God's kingdom that "parts is parts." Each integrated part of the Body is gloriously unique, had a role to play and a gift to manifest.
Our calling as the Body is to be, grow and develop in community, embracing the knowledge that we are not anything, or anyone, without the presence of others.