First Thoughts on Year C Epistle
Passages from the Lectionary
Epiphany 7: 24 February 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50Hope
rests ultimately on God and who God is. Arguably, all else is
imagination. But how one imagines the future may reflect a value system
and, indeed, project a value system back onto the present. If one sees
the future as preferably bodiless, this may reflect alienation from
embodiedness. A century later than Paul some would depict salvation as
primarily the rescue of the soul from the body in whose material it has
been trapped by an evil god. That would in turn lead to diminished
valuing of human embodiedness.
Already in Paul's time, however, there were hierarchies of values which
placed embodiedness very low on the scale, though not yet as the nasty
trick of a wayward god. The innocent notion of a bodiless future, my
soul going to heaven when I die, can lead to placing little value on
the body. The effects can be various: seeing sex as something
unsavoury; seeing the satisfaction of the body through food as either
inappropriate or as not mattering, leading to over-indulgence. There
are wider implications when some see no point in caring about the
enrvironment, because one day it will allegedly be replaced by a new
creation. Stop worrying about climate change! Who cares!
One of the special emphases of Jesus was that God cares, not just about
a distant future, but also about the here and now. Reducing the gospel
to a message about how one's soul can get to heaven loses so much of
what were Jesus' concerns. They were not limited to the future destiny
of individual souls, but embraced renewal and restoration already in
the present, alongside a vision of good news for the poor, most often
depicted as a great feast where even the despised and the disreputable
could find a place. He spoke of hope as the coming of God's reign, the
kingdom of God, fundamentally a communal concept where people would
live in peace with one another and with God. His vision survives in
truncated form - and often lost - in the celebration of the eucharist:
an engagement in that vision in the present through the gift of God's
grace which Jesus brought and brings.
For some of the believers at Corinth who were schooled in notions of
the ideal of disembodied souls, Paul had to emphasies embodiedness. For
him the acclamation that God had raised Jesus from the dead was a claim
that God had said yes to Jesus, vindicating him, embracing him into his
presence. It was, also, however, a template for the future. It is here
that we see Paul's use of imaginative reconstructions which were
emerging within his Jewish world. While that world sometimes emvisaged
an ideal future where Rome had been dethroned and Israel's Messiah had
disarmed its enemies and lived in peace under his rule, there were many
who also wanted to find a place for those of the past who had died and
others who saw this as also the time to bring all, the alive and the
dead, to face God's judgement on their lives. Some went beyond this to
the notion that the environment would also change, including the nature
of embodied life.
Most who embraced such hopes envisaged not only a resurrection in which
the faithful dead would rise and shine like the stars, but also that
those who were alive would undergo a similar bodlily transformation.
This understanding of resurrection helps us to see the story of Jesus'
transfiguration as a kind of trailer of what would happen. It also
helps us understand how they understood Jesus' resurrection: his body
was transformed into a spiritual body which could appear and disappear.
In our passage Paul envisages future embodiedness as our having a
spiritual body like Jesus' resurrection body, including that those who
would still be alive at his future coming - among whom Paul includes
himself - would be transformed or transfigured in the twinkling of an
eye also to be spiritual bodies to join with the resurrected ones.
Earlier in the chapter he writes of Jesus as the first fruit of those
who slept, those who had died, in other words, the first to be raised
from the dead into a new kind of existence.
Paul justifies this understanding of a spiritual body by referring to
the way seeds when sown, buried (as dead), spring to life in a new
form. Such, he argues, would be the case with those who have died. Just
as our physical bidoes follow the pattern of Adam, so our spiritual
bodies will follow the template of the resurrected Jesus, understood as
a second, superior Adam.
The passage takes us into an unfamilar world. On the one hand, it helps
us see that popular understandings of Jesus' resurrection as a kind of
resuscitation are misunderstandings. Their faith affirmed that God had
transfigured him into a new embodiedness. Most of the story tellers had
to imagine how that was, as they sought to affirm it as their faith. On
the other hand, entering their world helps us see that they imagined a
future that was not reduced to the fate of the individual soul and did
not devalue human embodiedness or human community, neither in the
future nor in the present. They sought to imagine what love in
community might look like where God's love has its way. For us as for
them, God is our hope. That defines our faith and sets our agenda for
Gospel: Epiphany 7: 24 February Luke 6:27-38
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