Feast of Saint James, Apostle
A distinguishing feature of Gnosticism – a set of ancient religious ideas originating in first and second century Judaism and Christianity – is that matter is evil. This includes the human body. As a result, redemption requires an escape from our material selves.
While many or most Americans might not be able to define (or even spell!) Gnosticism, it is not hard to see all the various ways in which we also seek to transcend our bodies. And it isn’t hard to understand why we would want to do that. Our bodies gain weight. Our bodies get tired. Our bodies become ill. Most important, our bodies age. Our material selves decline in noticeable and dramatic ways, and then they fail altogether. Our bodies are limited and flawed, and they have an expiration date. Of course it makes sense that we would like to escape “our mortal flesh.”
This desire may make sense, but it is radically at odds with the Gospel. As disciples of Jesus we are absolutely not called to transcend our materiality, not called to be superhuman – a project that is both unChristian and, in the end, doomed. Instead, and as St. Paul so eloquently reminds us, God has entrusted his message and his grace – “this treasure” – to us, these fragile and earthen vessels, these limited and afflicted and ever-declining embodied selves. It is in our very fleshliness that we are to live our lives of faith. It is in our very fleshliness that we are called to love God and love our neighbors. In fact, St. Paul suggests that our inevitable physical failings should actually serve to remind us of Jesus’ suffering and death, in the process reminding us who we are as his followers.
In short, as disciples of Jesus we are called to be fully and truly and wonderfully human. As Soren Kierkegaard famously said, “Now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” Amen.
- Bill Trollinger