We are confronted with a body. Luke emphasizes that Jesus is present bodily. As usual, if an author takes the time to say something they consider it important. The disciples think they see a ghost. Jesus has them touch his hands to feel the flesh and bone, check his feet to make sure they touch the ground, and watch him eat fish which stays in him. The point is that he is not a disembodied spirit. Much philosophy and religion in those days and in ours professes faith in a spirit separate from the body that exits the body at death and escapes this wicked, godless world. Ghost=soul without body. Zombie=body without soul. We all know this. It’s on YouTube. Nope. This is Jesus, body and all. That bodily resurrection is assumed in today’s First Reading.
Our First Reading joins a story already in progress. We are confronted with a body, the body of a man who couldn’t walk. Prior to our tuning in, Luke tells us that as Peter and John are going to the Temple, they see a man being carried to the gate. Luke tells us his ankles and feet were formed such that he has never been able to walk. His livelihood is begging for alms at the Temple gate. He cannot go in, because he’s considered physically deformed, which is an affront to God’s order. (It’s in the Torah.) Socially, he is an outcast—the God club maintains itself by keeping people like him out—and economically he has no choice but begging. That is his bodily reality. The French Roman Catholic theologian Louis-Marie Chauvet—in keeping with the classic Hebrew tradition—argues that we are our bodies, and that moreover our bodies are the product of other bodies—cultural, traditional, and environmental. This beggar’s body is naturally not like most—the feet and ankles are different. The culture has a language and thought system that labels this guy as wrong, malformed, and an affront to God. The Hebrew tradition in which he lives contains mythic texts dictated by God at Sinai in smoke and fire, stipulating that people with bone problems are out.
He begs from Peter and John. Peter says, “I have no money, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” Peter takes his hand and helps him to his feet, which are suddenly strong enough to hold him. The guy walks some, and accompanies Peter and John into the Temple leaping—he’s always wanted to try. Peter and John confront him with the body of Christ, and the man’s body changes. Where before his body seemed the natural embodiment of wrong, broken, belonging outside, now his body is a natural embodiment of right, healthy, belonging inside. That’s because Jesus’ friends say so. We today may ask if the problem wasn’t this man’s body but the Temple’s lack of ramps and wheelchairs. It’s a fair question that misses Luke’s point. Jesus makes this man’s body belong. Jesus’ friends say so. Where before his culture was designed to shame and exclude him, now his body belongs and the world is open to him because Jesus’ friends say so. Where before the body of tradition condemned him, now the grace in Scripture is real for him because Jesus’ friends say so. All of this happened before today’s scene. (We really should’ve set the DVR to start earlier.)
Now, Peter confronts us with the bodies, the body of this leaping stranger and the body of Christ. Remember, the listeners all share in the same culture and tradition and nature of the man who used to beg; he just fit into it differently, and now fits as the rest do. Peter credits God, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors.” He cites the shared culture and tradition of everyone present. Then, he says, this God has glorified God’s servant Jesus. It was Jesus’ name that did this, and that only works because the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and our ancestors vindicated him. You all counted Jesus as wrong, an affront to God, and kicked him out of the God club, but God vindicated him. Peter issues to us the same challenge Jesus issued to him.
When Jesus stands before his disciples, body and all, he challenges the bodies that define his disciples. The body of tradition did not necessarily point to Jesus. We take for granted that the Old Testament prefigures Jesus. We speak of Jesus as though the whole world had been waiting for him. That’s because we know him. If we’re reading the Bible front to back, by the time we get to the New Testament we’re ready for him. That wasn’t the case when Jesus was alive. Jesus’ risen body radically reinterprets the Scriptures. The resurrection says Scripture is holy insofar as it points to Jesus. Jesus preached and lived (according to Luke) as God’s Jubilee. That is, God announces that all debts are canceled, and all people are to live together as close to equally as possible. That announcement is embodied in Jesus, and Jesus acted it out with his miracles and his meals. His resurrection vindicates him. God raising Jesus shows the world that God meant precisely what God said in Jesus. Any interpretation of how God has been at work is going to have to account for this. He forces the Scriptures to account for him. The resurrection of the body confronts us. It makes us think about who we say does not belong—who doesn’t belong in holy space or in general economic life.
I was first confronted with the body of a Palestinian when I was 23. I knew they existed. I’d seen them in the news. I’d studied how many faiths tried to coexist in Jerusalem. Somehow, though, they weren’t real. Then, my second year of seminary my fall break coincided with a conference in Washington for the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, that my dad wanted me to attend with him. So, I attended. And I was confronted with flesh and blood Palestinians Christians. I say confronted. They weren’t confrontational toward me. They were there to talk about the reality of life under Israeli occupation. There were theologians who spoke of how Scripture and theology is twisted to justify dehumanizing the people of the Holy Land. There were sociologists and historians who spoke of how the West continues to view Arabs as a sort of semi-mythical “other” we can define as we see fit.
That initiated a confrontation with my body, and the bodies that define me. I had to think about who was in the God Club and who was not. I was forced to confront how my culture equipped me with language and ideas that treated these human beings as less than human. I was forced to confront how my tradition is misused to argue that somehow Jesus wasn’t enough and that God needs us to help him recapture cities on earth and to remove human beings who obstruct us. And how Christian theology gets coopted to say that once Jerusalem is free and the Temple rebuilt, our bodies or maybe our disembodied spirits will simply exit the Earth and leave it and all the undesirables to deal with the mess we’ve made. My faith has had to wrestle with those things, and I don’t think it’s done. I’ve said to you before: while I have had a few of what you could call “a ha moments” I much more often have what I call “agonizingly slow realizations.” My faith journey through Palestine—and for that matter, my faith journey in general—is one big agonizingly slow realization.
At this point in the agonizingly slow realization, I feel confident saying this: God wants us to take note of the body of the risen Jesus, the body of the man leaping in the Temple, and the bodies our culture claims are somehow less than we are. Because God loves these bodies enough to give them life and to raise them to new life. God is not so much intent on helping people escape bodies as God is intent on giving bodies life and raising them to new life. The kingdom of God is made up of bodies to whom God gives life, and not disembodied spirits God has rescued from bodies. Our membership in the God club does not depend on our keeping out certain types of bodies, or on escaping our bodies; it depends entirely on God.
Maybe this is why belief in the flight of our disembodied souls is so appealing: we cannot believe God loves us enough to give life to our bodies and raise our bodies to new life. I mean, honestly: who could love this? We are confronted with a body. Jesus confronts us and forces us to think about how we are inclined to believe that our bodies are temporary homes, perhaps inherently sinful, and that we should feel bad about them, even guilty, ashamed, embarrassed—and that we should make sure everybody else feels the same way about theirs. Jesus confronts that by being bodily resurrected. Who could love this? Well, guess what? God loves that thing. And it’s weird, I know. The thought that God makes me in God’s image, gives me life and loves me unconditionally almost makes me joyful so I’m suspicious. And you know what? God’s just going to keep on loving. God loves us when we’re suspicious. God loves us when we doubt. God loves us when we’re tempted to think God couldn’t love us. We are confronted with a body that God loves enough to give life and to raise to new life. Our own.