Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Word Became Flesh....

***I am reading a book by Eugene Peterson entitled “The Contemplative Pastor” and on page 68 (In the Chapter entitled “Praying With Eyes Open”) he writes this:
“Matter is real. Flesh is good. Without a firm rooting in creation, religion is always drifting off into some kind of pious sentimentalism or sophisticated intellectualism. The task of salvation is not to refine us into pure spirits so that we will not be cumbered with this too solid flesh… The Word did not become a good idea, or a numinous feeling, or a moral aspiration; the Word became flesh… The physical is holy. It is extremely significant that in the opening sentences of the bible, God speaks a world of energy and matter into being: light, moon, stars, earth, vegetation, animals, man, woman (not love and virtue, faith and salvation, hope and judgment…)”
***The history of the church is filled with believers trying desperately to escape their flesh. But Pr. Peterson reminds us of a central understanding of our faith – God became flesh in Jesus. Jesus is born fully human. Through Jesus God enters into the human experience and we are saved in our flesh – not outside of it. The church fathers were always quick to condemn the heresies which denied the humanity of Jesus – Arianism, Gnosticism and so forth – but one wonders if they completely accepted the implications of a God who is fully human.
***I am not sure we completely understand or accept these implications for ourselves today. Popular Christianity is awash in legalisms and condemnations which seem to me to be an attempt to push their followers toward a pharisaic purity that would lift them out of the flesh. We don’t want to be saved in our humanity – we want to be lifted out of it. And so we condemn those who are not as pure, or as spiritual as we think we are and we reject those who lives seem to be deeply mired in the flesh.
***God comes to us in the flesh. In the Gospel for last Sunday (Epiphany 5 – St. Mark 1:29-39) Jesus begins his ministry with healings. He reaches out to and enters into the experience of those whose flesh is destroying them and he frees them. This is how the God who becomes flesh operates – he comes to us in our flesh.; in our misery, in our infirmity, in our struggles and stresses. God is present with us there in the midst and heals us and frees us. Am I saying (as the theology of glory might suggest) that God will make the poor materially rich, (to use one example)? No, God reaches to us and heals us where we are, is present with us and leads us forward. Sometimes this means accepting who and where we are – accepting the limits of the flesh, but also accepting that our humanness is a wonderful gift of God’s. God became flesh – we are flesh and God comes to us in our humanity.

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent reminder that we believe creation is good, and that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. I'm not sure whether the Arians denied Jesus' humanity. Possibly some of them did, but the main heresy of the Arians, as I understand it, was that they denied Christ was co-equal with God the Father. Perhaps you meant Monophysites, who said Christ had only a divine nature.

    A lot of groups get lumped into the Gnostic category, but you're right that many or most of them saw the material world as a creation of the Demiurge and that we are all divine beings yearning to escape the imprisonment of our bodies. (Simon Magus seems to have believed this, though he seems to have greatly enjoyed the company of his companion Helen, an ex-prostitute whom he said was his first Thought.)

    The medieval Cathars seem to have believed something similar, and the church was probably correct in declaring them heretical, though not for virtually exterminating them. (I say probably because so much of the information about them comes from their accusers.)

    The groups that saw Jesus as purely human, or adopted by God as his son, such as the Ebionites, seem to have been insignificant by the time the Church had the power to condemn them.

    Historical nitpicking aside, a very insightful post.