This Thorny Flesh
  • Sunday, November 10, 2013

25 Pentecost

First reading and psalm: Hag. 1:15b-2:9 • Ps. 145:1-5, 18-21 or Ps. 98

Alternate: Job. 19:23-27a • Ps. 17:1-9 • 2 Thess. 2:1-5, 13-17 • Luke 20: 27-38

The prophetic inspiration to drive forward the construction of a new temple and the purification of all cultic worship is the elect voice of Haggai. Speaking to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, he gives voice first to the near impossibility of their endeavor (Hag. 2:2-3): “Who is left among you that saw the house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?” Has not God created ex nihilo? The Spirit will shake dead bone, make new bodies in the strength of the Lord, and set them to the task of erecting a temple. Nations will give up their gold and silver, and the glory of the temple will be as never before. So the prophet hopes the messianic age is about to be. The prophet thinks not of eternal souls, but rather of a body politic, a community whose king is God.

Job tells quite a different story, his desolation confined to the body of his family and his own flesh. And yet to him the loss of every blessing coupled with gaping wounds in the flesh is a most horrible sorrow. At moments he curses God and dreams of death, but hope for vindication endures, leaving us words that we have grafted to our burial rites. “For I know that my redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27). These words are said but not truly heard for the astounding claim they make. Job expects to behold the Lord in the restored temple of his own body. Job has risen.

“Stand firm,” says St. Paul to the Thessalonians, “and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15). The soul is not to race from the body, for he says “comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word” (2 Thess. 2:17). Stand in the flesh alive in the Lord.

The dead are raised in the flesh, which Moses shows from the story of the bush. “Moses on that occasion attained to this knowledge …. [R]adiance shines upon us through this thorny flesh that is (as the Gospel says) the true light and the truth itself” (Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, II, 26). Again, the truth of a brilliant resurrection placed in our thorny flesh. Very few Christians, I suspect, actually believe this. They hope instead for a vague heaven of drifting souls.

I am not trying to convince or persuade, but only to state that the tradition once given saw the body as the material of a great transformation, and not merely at the close of the age, but in the present moment. From an early catechesis: “When we take the body and blood of Christ, we become Christ bearers, the body and blood of Christ having been distributed to all our members. So, according to St. Peter, we are sharers of the divine nature” (Liturgia Horarum, II, 513).

Dear Reader, we are complete strangers, so I will risk my terrible truth. I kissed my dead daughter’s body in the horror of grief, knowing that it was her precious body. Remember, Jesus came to preserve your body and soul unto everlasting life.

Look It Up
Read the historic creeds, and then ask, “How am I treating my body?”

Think About It
You cannot love God and hate your neighbor. Your body is your neighbor.

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