Humans: Flesh and Body (II)

This is the 20th  blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Humans: Flesh and Body (I).

“To be sure, the body remains central because of Christianity’s insistence that the salvation process is worked by Christ’s physical incarnation and physical resurrection.  In Syriac the same term is used to mean both ‘salvation’ and ‘life’ (hayye).  We know our fallen condition through the corruptibility and mortality of the body; we will know salvation through its incorruptibility and immortality as revealed in original creation.  The most prevalent image for salvation in early Syriac literature is that of healing.  Christ is the Treasury of Healing and Medicine of Life, a title also commonly employed for the Eucharist. . . . For early Syriac writers, then, Christianity was located in the body because the body, in the most literal sense, was what God had fashioned in the beginning and where God had chosen to find us in our fallenness.  This was why God acted through the incarnation.  Ephrem declares, ‘Glory to You who clothed Yourself with the body of mortal Adam, and made it a fountain of life for all mortals!’  This, too, explains the ritual process of the liturgy, as one enacted in and with the body.  Ephrem evokes the liturgy as that which teaches us not only how to experience with our bodies, but further, what to experience.  . . .  The healing of the sacraments restores our oneness of being and our appropriate sensory experience.  Yet there is more to be done.  In the body of Christ, the cosmic war between good and evil was fought in earnest.  Our bodies are the battleground in which the struggle between God and Satan, good and evil, life and death continues.”   (Susan Ashbrook Harvey, “Embodiment in Time and Eternity: A Syriac Perspective’, SVTQ Vol 43 No 2 1999, p 114-115)

The early Christian assertion, “God became human so that humans might become God”, became central to the Christian understanding of salvation.   “God became human” is the incarnation of God the Word in Jesus Christ, the God-man.  It is only because Jesus is both fully human and fully divine that salvation for all humanity occurs.   His death on the cross alone is not sufficient for salvation.  All of the later theories of substitutionary death and satisfaction coming through the crucifixion of Jesus, are in Orthodox theology meaningless without the truth of the incarnation of God in the flesh.  We are saved in Christ because in Him God and humanity are united together again.  We experience the salvation of Jesus Christ in our bodies in and through the sacraments.  Our bodies are essential for our salvation!   We find this also asserted in writings attributed to the 4th Century Saint Macarius of Egypt  [Today most scholars believe these writings came from a monk in the 5th or 6th Century and were not written by St. Macarius the Great, and so often the writings are attributed to “Pseudo-Macarius”].

CreationAdamEve“And so God, who made your body, did not give it life from its very own nature nor from the body itself, nor from the food, drink, clothing, and footwear that he gave the body, but he arranged it that your body, created naked, should be able to live by means of such extrinsic things as food, drink, and clothing.  (If the body were to attempt to exist only by its own constituted nature without accepting these exterior helps, it would deteriorate and perish.)  In a similar way, it is so with the human soul.  It does not have by nature the divine light, even though it has been created according to the image of God.  For, indeed God ordered the soul in his economy of salvation according to his good pleasure that it would enjoy eternal life.  It would not be because of the soul’s very own nature but because of his Divinity, of his very Spirit, of his light, that the soul should receive its spiritual meat and drink and heavenly clothing which are truly the life of the soul.

As therefore, the body, as was said above, does not have life in itself, but receives it from outside, that is, from the earth, and without such material things of the earth it cannot live, so also the soul, unless it be regenerated into that ‘land of the living’ (Ps 27:13) and there be fed spiritually and progress by growing spiritually unto the Lord and be adorned by the ineffable garments of heavenly beauty flowing out of the Godhead, without that food in joy and tranquility, the soul cannot clearly live.

For the divine nature has the bread of life who said: ‘I am the bread of life’ (Jn 6:35), and ‘the living water’ (Jn 4:10), and the ‘wine that gladdens the heart of man’ (Ps 104:15), and ‘the oil of gladness’ (Ps 45:8), and the whole array of food of the heavenly Spirit and the heavenly raiment of light coming from God.  In these does the eternal life of the soul consist.  Woe to the body if it were to rely solely on its own nature, because it would by nature disintegrate and die.  Woe also to the soul if it find its whole being in its own nature and trusts solely in its own operations, refusing the participation of the Divine Spirit because  it does not have the eternal  and divine life as vital part of itself.”  (PSEUDO-MACARIUS, p 43)

Neither the human body or soul by themselves can find the way to salvation.  Each needs to be nourished by God and they need to be nourished together since a human is an ensouled body or embodied soul.   There is no salvation apart from the human body as God in the incarnation shows the physical world is completely spiritual as well and capable of being united to divinity.   The Holy Mysteries of the Church, the sacraments, nourish both soul and body together bringing them to salvation.  This salvation is truly cosmic and involves the entire universe.

thestarrynight“The entire Cosmos thus participates by representation in the preparation of the matter used by the Church sacramentally and in other ways.  And it in this fashion that the entire cosmos offers its praise. With specific reference to the Eucharist, the wheat and the grapes are the offering of the community that is the Cosmos, the offering of the dust clouds in space, the stars, the Earth and other planets, of bacteria and fungi, of plants and animals. This offering is transformed into bread and wine by human labor and skill, and it receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, an offering to God by man, the priest of the Cosmos. Man depends on the Cosmos for the matter that makes up his and her body and for the matter that is used sacramentally; reciprocally, the Cosmos depends on Man to complete its own offering. Thus the seventh-century saint Leontius of Cyprus wrote:

Through heaven and earth and sea, through wood and stone, through relics and church buildings, and the Cross, and angels and men—through all creation, visible and invisible, I offer veneration to the Creator and master and Maker of all things. For creation does not venerate the Maker directly and by itself, but it is through me that the heavens declare the glory of God; through me the moon worships God, through me the stars glorify him, through me the waters and showers of rain, the dew and all creation, venerate God and give him glory. In the Eucharist we offer, in this piece of bread and in this cup of wine, the entire Cosmos and every living creature including ourselves—everything from the tiniest particles of matter to the farthest reaches of space, as well as the fruits of human labor in all places and all times.4 We thus come to see that the Eucharist is central to the Cosmos. And it is the Eucharist that enables us to recognize more clearly that the Cosmos is transparent to Christ, who shines through all matter.”  (G Theokritoff, Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation, Kindle  Loc. 2934-49)

It is in and through empirical creation that God reveals Himself to us and unites Himself to us bringing us from life in this world to life in the world to come.  It is how in and through bread that Christ is revealed to us and how we can eat His body to gain eternal life.  The Lord Jesus said,

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. … Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”   (John 6:51-56). 

Next:   Humans: Flesh and Body (III)

Counting on Prayer

Multiplying loaves and fish and counting people in Matthew 14:14-22

At that time when Jesus went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.

Scholar David Instone-Brewer comments that the attention to detail of numbers in this version of this Gospel lesson found in Mark 6:39-40 and Luke 9:14, where the people are to sit in groups of 50 or 100, may have to do with the fact that Jewish practice provided different blessings before and after eating depending on the number of people sharing the meal.  Thus counting the number of people was important for knowing which prayer was required for the situation.

“The different blessings for different sizes of gatherings may explain the reason why the Gospels are particularly interested in the number of people who sat down to eat the miraculous loaves and fishes with Jesus (Mt. 14.13-21; 15.32-38 and parallels). […]Matthew specifically says on both occasions that the women and children were not counted (14.21; 15.38), which suggests that they were counting the number of eligible people for the saying of Grace, in order to decide on the form of the blessing.[…]It is likely that people at a public meal were already in the habit of sitting in groups of ten men or in larger numbered groups. Not only would this facilitate counting for the Grace, but it would mean that each group could decide for itself when it had finished the meal and say Grace together, if someone in that group had to leave before the whole gathering had finished. It may be significant that they Synoptics say that ‘they all ate and were satisfied’ (Mk. 6.42/Mt. 14.20/Lk.9.17), alluding to Deut. 8.10, ‘you shall eat and be satisfied and bless the Lord your God.’ ” (Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament,  pg. 81)

The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes finds its significance in the fulfilling of Torah:  they ate and were satisfied.  The importance of this is that the people were supposed to recognize this as a sign of God’s presence, prophecy, promise and Kingdom!  Instead the people don’t recognize the sign and as Christ laments only look for more food rather than to look for the Giver of Life and His Kingdom.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.”  (John 6:26-27)

The fulfilling of Torah was to remind the people that they are blessed by God: God provided for them in the wilderness and they should never forget the Lord.  In the Gospel, the problem becomes the people are quite willing to have the Lord feed them, but then they don’t recognize the Lord feeding them.  They will soon forget and turn against the Lord.  It is worth reading Deuteronomy 8 and thinking about the Gospel lesson of the loaves and fishes in the light of Deuteronomy.  God did His part, but the people forgot their role and so failed to recognize God in their midst even in the wilderness where they were both hungry and thirsty.

“All the commandment which I command you this day you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your fathers.  And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. . . . ” 

While we all need bread (food, nutrients, sustenance) to survive on earth, Christ reminds the people that they are not merely biological creatures.  To be human is to have the image of god imprinted on our very being, to beathe the Spirt of God and to have His Word abiding in us.  We need God’s Word, Jesus Christ, as much as we need bread to live in this world.

So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him.  For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, . . .  a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing. . .  And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.  “Take heed lest you forget the LORD your God, by not keeping his commandments and his ordinances and his statutes, which I command you this day:  lest, when you have eaten and are full. . .  then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna which your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.  Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’  

Part of the Gospel lessons regarding the feeding of the thousands by Christ, is the disciples’ fear that they don’t have enough wealth to feed the people themselves (Matthew 14:15, Mark 6:37, John 6:7).

You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth; that he may confirm his covenant which he swore to your fathers, as at this day.  And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you shall surely perish.  Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.”   (Deuteronomy 8)

After reading promise and prophecy of Deuteronomy 8 in which God’s people are instructed to remember the Lord when they see the signs of the Kingdom of Heaven, we come back to the Gospel Lesson of the feeding of the 5000 (the only miracle reported in all four Gospels).  It was immediately after feeding the 5000 that Jesus has the following dialogue in John 6 with the people who had seen the miraculous sign of the multiplication of loaves and fishes in the wilderness (keep in mind that the wilderness is not a place you would normally find fish or wheat!).

On the next day the people who remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone.  However, boats from Tiberias came near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks.

The emphasis is mine and not in the original text.  The people remembered the thanksgiving which was offered by Christ and yet still do not see this as a sign – a fulfilling of the promises and prophecies of the Torah.

 So when the people saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.  When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”  Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  

Jesus even calls attention to the fact that they have witnessed a sign of the kingdom of God but they are disinterested in that sign, rather He notes sadly that they are only interested in satiating themselves on earth.  Having enough to eat is a good thing, but they fail to see that having an over abundance of food  in a wilderness place is a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven, of God’s hand on earth.   That Christ claims to be feeding them the bread of heaven is of no interest to them as they cannot see beyond their own gluttony (“their god is their belly” – Phillipians 3:19).

Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” . . .  

Jesus promises to give them something more than food in this world which satisfies for the moment; He promises to give them a food which gives eternal life.  But, the people don’t take the bait, so to speak.  They fail to see the miracle as a sign of God’s Kingdom and are blind to what is before them.

So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”  Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.”  They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. . . .  For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”   (John 6:22-40)

We too see the signs of the Kingdom.  The bread of heaven,who is Christ the Lord, continues to be given to us in the Eucharist – it continues to be multiplied throughout the ages and throughout the world, feeding all of those who are spiritually hungry for the food which gives eternal life rather than for the bread which satisfies for the moment.   Yet, even today, some are not much interested in this sign of the coming Kingdom and rather only want miracles and magic which amaze for the moment and cause them to only want more amazement and amusement in a world which is passing away.

Fishers of Men: Called to Feed the World with the Word

fishingboats2Second Sunday after Pentecost  2009

 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.  And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom.  (Matthew 4:18-23)

Note in the Gospel Lesson that before becoming evangelists, the disciples are first called to follow Jesus. “Come with me,” Christ beckons to those He is newly calling to be disciples.  First we must follow Him and only if we follow Him, travel with Him, learn from Him – in effect become His disciples – can we be made into “fishers of men”  – apostles and evangelists.   In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus starts forming His inner group of disciples from a core group of fishermen – men who work together to cast nets into the sea  to take a haul of  fish (not use rod and reel and hook to catch individual fish).   Important to remember is that the real goal of fishermen is not simply to catch fish; more importantly they feed the world.   They turn the catch into something valuable for all humanity.   They seek out the God given abundance of creation and use it to nourish their fellow humans.   In this sense the fishermen are valuable to the world, and give something valuable to people.  They are not simply those who take from the earth or profit from its riches.   They work hard to harvest the abundant resources which God has bestowed upon the earth in order to provide for the needs of others.    Fishermen thus remind us of the Genesis 3:17-19 injuction to humanity that only by the sweat of the brow will the earth yield its abundance.  

WilkensEarlyXCRobert Louis Wilken in his book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought  speaks to the issue of our first becoming disciples, following Jesus and learning from the Master when he describes St. Augustine’s thought

“…that the knowledge acquired by faith is not primarily a matter of gaining information. The acquiring of religious knowledge is akin to learning a skill. It involves practices, attitudes, and dispositions and has to do with ordering one’s loves. This kind of knowledge, the knowledge one lives by, is gained gradually over time. Just as one does not learn to play the piano in a day, so one does not learn to love God in an exuberant moment of delight. If joy does not find words, if it does not exercise the affections and stir the will, if it is not confirmed by actions, it will be as fleeting as the last light out of the black west. The knowledge of God sinks into the mind and heart slowly and hence requires apprentices. That is why, says Augustine, we must become ‘servants of wise men.’”

SignIt really is the purpose of the parish, the local Christian community, to be the very locale where we learn to be Christ’s disciples.  Any vision of the parish or strategic plan for the parish has to take into account:  “what does the parish have to do or be in order to disciple its members, to apprentice them, so that they can be true followers of Christ and the future apostles and evangelists of the Church?”   The answer to this question helps us to understand what it is that only the local parish can give to each of us Christians personally and collectively – that which we cannot get anywhere else in the world.    We can have friends and community from other places, we can be entertained and socialized by other organizations, but it is only within the local Christian community that we can be discipled, learn from the example of other disciples and leaders, practice our apprenticeship under the loving guidance of fellow believers.   In Christ telling us to be fishers of men, He was not merely directing us “to draw the world into His net”, He was calling us to nurture and feed the world with the Bread which comes from heaven (John 6:28-41).