Tuesday, June 08, 2021

According to the flesh?


Initial thoughts on the Lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 and 2 Corinthians 5:6-17 and Mark 4:26-34.

If I am honest, I don’t think I have ever felt entirely at home in my body. Not because I do not believe the body matters; I do. I hold no truck with a pseudo-spirituality that views the body as of less value than the soul. Nor is it that I feel trapped in the wrong body; though I appreciate that that is the experience of some, including people I know. Rather, it is in part because, in my body, I live with dyspraxia—it is hard to be at ease in/with a body when that body has to work so damn hard to process things that neurotypical bodies take for granted. And it is in part because my body is not mine alone. My shared DNA, in particular as it shapes the contours of my face, is an embodied reminder of a web of relationships, past and present, storied with pain as well as joy and wonder, open wounds as well as old familiar scars. When I look in the mirror, I see too many ghosts, of the living as well as the dead, bodies I am apart from in the body.

There is, then, a longing, not for a day when I shall be freed from the body, but for a day when every wound shall be glorious, in the likeness of the wounds of my risen Lord. Every scar, a history of unfolding, enfolding, grace. But for now, in those ways I rejoice over my body and in those ways I weep over my body, I make it my aim to please him.

It comes down to a matter of heart, the seat of our desire to know God as we are well known to God, and of the will to present my body, on a daily basis, in God’s service. My body, as it is: its strength and weaknesses, in sickness and in health. ‘For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16:7b; cf. 2 Cor 5:12)

In our Gospel reading, we hear again two parables of physical transformation, culminating in fruitfulness and purpose. The seed that sprouts, producing first a stalk, then the head, then the full grain to be harvested. And the smallest seed, that grows up to be the largest—and most vigorous—of shrubs. The one to the farmer’s joy; the other, to the farmer’s consternation.

The seed was not made by God to remain in the form of a seed, but to pursue its response to the gift of life. The sower observes the mystery of life, transformed; and also the wider mystery of creation. Day and night do not so much follow one another in an endless dance as change their outward form through unfolding stages of dawn and dusk.

All bodies change through time, whether they simply age from baby to child to youth to adult to maturity and the fading grandeur of decline and eventual decay, or whether the process involves multiple medical procedures, shaping the body to better the purposes of its heart. Whether my body, or bodies with more complex histories, each as well known to God.

The Church has understood itself in bodily terms, as the body of Christ, and lives with the tension of being a body, not wholly at ease in her own skin. But we are seeking to be more at home in the body, by faith, until we see Christ face to face. More at home with our various constituent bodies, both our own—as it transforms—and those of our sisters and brothers, cys-gender and transgender, presently able-bodied (enabled bodies) and for now dis-abled. We are seeking to boast about, and enable, one another's hearts, not pass judgement on outward appearances. And in this, we shall need the grace of God, and forgiveness.

‘But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’’ (1 Sam 16:7)


‘From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view [Greek: according to the flesh], we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!’ (2 Cor 5:16, 17)


‘He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

‘He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

‘With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.’ (Mark 4:26-34)

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