Today in medicine there is so much specialization that the body tends to be broken up into parts. Some doctors specialize in the heart, others in the brain, others in the eye, others in the ear, and so on. Specialization is good but it can have a downside. Specialists may be concerned only with organs, not with human beings. They may know scarcely anything about the person whose eye or heart or hip they are treating.
The human body forms a unity even though it is composed of many members. Those members are very different from one another and have very different functions. Some undoubtedly are more important than others. Yet to be complete the body needs all of them, and the members need each other.
So it is with the Church. We though many form one body in Christ. By means of our baptism we have become members of the Body of Christ, the Church. Some might wish to go it alone, independent of the community. But there can be no such thing as an isolated Christian. We are part of one another and must not try to go it alone.
Community makes demands on us. For this reason, the temptation to go it alone, to seek salvation independent of others, is strong. But we need each other, just as the parts of the body need each other. And the Church needs all of us. We need to have a sense of belonging to one another and to Christ. We have to get involved even when we would rather just look after ourselves.
Belonging to a community has obvious benefits. Take reeds for an example. Individually they are weak and easily broken. But tie a bundle of them together, and they are virtually unbreakable. So it is with people. Great strength results from togetherness. People take courage from knowing each other, encouraging each other, and from standing together. Great things can be done when people work together.
The emphasis on community comes from Jesus himself, only he used a different image to describe it. He used the image of a vine and its branches: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” It is a simple but profound illustration of unity and interdependence.
It’s obvious that the branches need the vine. But the vine also needs the branches, because it is the branches that produce the fruit.
This is how Jesus wanted it to be between him and his disciples. This is the way he wants it to be between him and us. He is the vine, we are the branches. Or to use Paul’s language: “Jesus is the head of the body, we are the limbs of the body.” Without a sense of belonging together, of caring for one another and being responsible for one another, one is not really a Christian.
The fruit which Jesus desires from us is primarily that of unity among ourselves.