Saturday of Judica: What Sort of Flesh did Jesus Have?
Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
Several times in the Gospel (John and Luke both give accounts) Jesus was able to escape a sticky situation by “passing through” the people who were about to stone Him or throw Him off a cliff. And then we have the account where Jesus appeared among the disciples after His resurrection, or disappeared from the two disciples on the day of His resurrection in Emmaus.
To enter into a brief meditation on this subject, let’s consider the following. So much of theology is done in the negative. Better put, so much of theology is reactive. It’s sort of like rejoicing in a mystery, and then when someone wants to stake a claim on some aspect of that mystery and run with it according to his own biases (otherwise known as an idol, or heresy), the rest of the Church has to say, “No, it’s not that.” It’s negative, or reactive.
By way of example, consider the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s rooted in expressions like, “I and the Father are one.” It’s a logical impossibility to say two defined subjects – “I” and “Father” – are “the same.” Yet, they are one. How do we explain that?
Well, some will emphasize the oneness, like certain Pentecostalists who don’t believe in the Trinity and believe God simply put on different masks and had different titles, the way I am a dad and husband at the same time. But Jesus clearly speaks of the Father as an independent Person, whose will He submits to for instance. So are there two? Nope. “I and the Father are one.” So what then? There’s your doctrine of the Trinity, a mystery.
So much of theology runs this way. Are we sinners or saints? Is our redemption complete yet or not? How are all the company of heaven with us? What’s the relationship between justification and sanctification. On and on. Very often problems happen when some heretical group stakes their ground on some aspect of a mystery and excludes other aspects of the mystery that don’t fit.
The nature of Jesus’ flesh is similar. What is the nature of Jesus’ flesh?
Based on a hyper-understanding of God as Spirit, the Gnostics and others conclude everything material is as non-God as can be, even evil. They couldn’t fathom anything flesh and blood could be anything good. To support their understanding, they point to passages like, “The flesh profits nothing” or “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” or “God is Spirit.”
But clearly flesh and blood is hugely important. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” And “Take eat, this is my body.” And “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” And “the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus needles this thread by teaching, “The flesh profits nothing; the spirit gives life,” after teaching about His flesh and blood, emphasizing that while His flesh and blood give life, they do so because the Holy Spirit is “working it.”
Likewise do we make a distinction between “eating Jesus’ body” and “chomping on His flesh,” known as the Capernaitic eating of Jesus’ flesh. No, that’s not what’s happening. We leave it at the mystery. We eat bread, which is the Body of Christ. Amen.
Now, as we’ve been guarding against Gnostic teaching these past months, we might run the risk of “staking our ground” on Jesus’ flesh and blood, understood as we understand our own flesh and blood, and get very earthy about it. The extreme of this is to turn Jesus into a divinely animated flesh and blood person, like a prophet or great teacher, who focused on flesh and blood, earthly concerns. That is indeed how many liberal theologians run with their critiques of Gnosticism.
Our words for meditation today from the Gospel serve as an antidote to this “claim staking.” Jesus is flesh and blood. He’s also God. That means that yes, He does things like disappear and pass through peoples and walls. It’s a glorified flesh. And though St. Paul says “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” he teaches we will have a glorified flesh, a new flesh that, well, is different in some way from the flesh we have here. It’s still our flesh and blood, but just…different. Who knows what this means. It’s a mystery, even as it’s a mystery how Jesus passes through walls as a solid, material being.
But that’s the nature of theology, very often, to affirm two truths that don’t seem to mesh well together, but which are true in mysterious ways that are beyond our comprehension now.