[Monday in the First Week of Lent] The Common Good: How Do We Define It?

Read: 1 Corinthians 12:20-27

As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Watch

Reflect

Capitalism views the world primarily in terms of economic value, with an eye on economic efficiency. How much can an entity—human, mechanical, or natural resource—contribute toward profitability? This perspective raises numerous questions: What is the lowest cost method to get the job done? How much is a company worth if it can be split into pieces and sold as parts? What is the financial advantage of moving operations to a new city or country—and leaving behind former employees and abandoned facilities?

Competition, rather than mutual support, is one of capitalism’s driving engines. Christianity, though, has frequently seen the world differently. We ask ourselves how we are called to live in the world but not be enslaved to the world and its priorities. Scripture helps us in our questioning. One focus of Genesis’s creation story is that God calls human beings to be stewards of the created order. Adam gets the opportunity to name each individual animal that God sets before him. Similarly, Saint Paul tells us that the members of the body of Christ are many and varied, but each one is important in order to help build up the whole.

Liturgy also shapes how we live. At baptism we individually name new members of the Christian community and pledge ourselves to support the newly baptized as they grow into the full stature of Christ. Mutual support eclipses competition. The Christian message is that we are not anonymous, unknown, unconnected beings, but rather God calls us to be in relationship and support one another, in much the same way that the Persons of the Trinity are distinct but always in relationship with one another.

Conflicting views of what it is like to live in society comprise some of the hard realities of life in the twentyfirst century. Christians have lived as faithful witnesses in every economic era. How do we live as faithful witnesses in this one?

Pray

Almighty God, whose loving hand has given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor you with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 827)

Author

Larry Benfield is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas.