Gnostic America

Tuesday of Trinity 15: What is the Body for?

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“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

Last devotion we contemplated how the Lord has created a world of abundance, and a simple faith-filled sight of a bird or lily has the capacity – like the potential in five loaves of bread – has the potential for unlimited abundance.

As the passage continues, however, we realize that part of that faith means recognizing that life is “more than food” and the body is “more than clothing.” That’s interesting. It means that part of Mammon’s religion is the opposite, that life is in fact just about food, and the body in fact is about clothing. And here, we can typify food and clothing. Food typifies all the inward fleshy desires – bodily pleasures, lust, drunkenness, and so on. Clothing typifies the more outward desires – properties, lands, awards, status symbols, and so on.

The religion of the Lord is “more than” that. Our temptation, of course, is to see “less than” that. Between a lily and a beachfront property, who wouldn’t want to take the beachfront property. Yet, what a great joy to realize that we can have unfathomable riches at the sight of a lily, that faith offers that possibility, or that when hungry or desirous of some earthly, bodily pleasure, we merely need to look at a bird and relax, at total peace.

Conversely, who really thinks that if they embrace the sort of attitude that sees beachfront property as an awesome upgrade in life, that this will end their quest for more?

It’s really such a simple, and awesome, point. Mammon’s demands never end and lead to worry. The Lord’s teaching can fill bellies and eradicate poverty with a bird and a lily, when that teaching goes hand in hand with faith. Yet, where is the person who declares piously after losing everything but the birds in the air and the flower in his yard, “The Lord has just blessed me so much.”

So, that all being said, if life is “more than” food and the body “more than” clothing, what is life for, and what is the body for? Again, interesting questions.

“Life more than food” is easy to understand. We get a host of teaching to this effect from, for instance, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness: “Man does not live by bread along, but by every word proceeding out of the mouth of God.” The Word proceeding from the Father, of course, is Jesus, the Word made flesh, the bread of life. And this leads to the other teaching on life being more than food, in John 6, where Jesus teaches “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead.” If there be true life, it must be beyond bread. And what is that life? Jesus says, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

So, Jesus’ statement that “life is more than food” is related to the true hunger that we have, for righteousness, a righteousness He fulfills, a righteousness we should seek, a righteousness He feeds us with, His body and blood, His fervent love and mercy for us.

This is why we fast before communion.

Now the second statement requires a bit more probing. How is the “body more than clothing”? What is the body for? How did the body get involved in this discussion in the first place?

Well, it got involved in the discussion because the body is essential to life. Adam didn’t get life until God breathed it into his body, and life ends when the body turns becomes a lump of dust again. And unlike the Gnostics, we don’t see faith as simply a matter of the spirit, or an aspect of life that transcends the body. The Gnostics deprecated the body and treated it poorly, because nothing in it was to be redeemed.

But Jesus teaches something different. The body is just as much a part of what Jesus redeems as our life is. He teaches it clearly: “The body is more than clothing.” Meaning, “I’ve appointed the body for something “more than” what you might think it out to be for.

Where things get a bit murky is what that “more than” is. Jesus has already, in the Sermon on the Mount, in His teaching on adultery, taught how the body can go to hell – so, better to cut off an offending hand or eye than have the whole body go to hell (just send the hand or eye there).

But is Jesus talking about the body here? Or, as the fathers of the lectionary seemed to sense as they selected a Gospel for the feast of St. Michael, is He talking about something more like “humanity” or the “son of man”? And the offending element of the creation is the prideful Satan, who “causes the body to fall (stumble)”? Or, in the context of Jesus’ teaching on adultery, is the Lord talking about how an element of the body of believers can lead the whole body astray toward idolatry (adultery), and so should be excommunicated, the way Satan is/was excommunicated from heaven?

If this is the case, than the “more than” use of the body is for humility, the ultimate humility being death, as Jesus showed us, and as Jesus did with His own body. Yet, it’s humility preceding exaltation and ascension, when Jesus’ body arose and ascended at God’s right hand in a transfigured mode. That truly is a “more than” use of the body, that the growing and flowering lily certainly teaches.

Interesting, but this actually leads to another area where Jesus teaches some stuff about the body, also when He teaches about riches and Mammon, when He speaks of the eye being the light of the body. This connects last devotion with this one. The one whose eyes are on Mammon will always be darkened by what he doesn’t have, by the principle of limitation and scarcity. But the one whose eyes are a lamp will be full of light…like Jesus, the light, at His transfiguration. “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.”

Having your body transfigured with “clothes white like the sun” is certainly a “more than” instance of the body. And indeed, at the second coming, we will be revealed as “sons of light.”

The remaining uses of “body” in the Gospel of Matthew have to do with bodies being buried – Jesus and John the Baptist – and Jesus’ body being given out at Holy Communion.

Altogether, we get a full picture of the what the body is “more than” for. It’s to be humbled unto death, so that it might be raised, glorified, and transfigured. The person of faith, dying and alone with the lily, sees in that lily his own exaltation and transfiguration, something way more than he ever could have gotten in this world.

No wonder we have lilies full the sanctuary on Easter. They are a sermon unto themselves.

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