Ez 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-10; Jn 11:1-45
“Those who ae in the flesh cannot please God….But you are not in the flesh”.
These words from St. Paul may rank as some of the most misunderstood in the Bible. In the history of the early Church, words such as these gave fuel to a heretical form of Christianity commonly referred to as “Gnosticism” – a philosophy heavily influenced by the dualism in Greek thinking that saw the material world as inherently corrupt and the spiritual world as perfectly good. In the Gnostic view of things, God would never really take on flesh and the Incarnation, therefore, was a grand optical illusion.
Gnosticism continuesto weave its’ way through popular Catholic spirituality in a more rudimentary form to this day, darkening it with a sense that there’s something fundamentally icky about the body.
When Paul, a Jew who understood body and spirit as united in an inseperable and holy unity (see Genesis 2:4-7), speaks of “those in the flesh” he isn’t advancing gnosticism. There is nothing wrong with being “in the flesh” from a biological point of view. How could one be a human being otherwise?
When “fleshiness” takes over the heart, however, bad things happen. Paul’s condemnation of those in the flesh refers to people who cannot see beyond the flesh – that is, they do not believe there is a spiritual dimension to creation and, specifically, to their own humanity. From this point of view, life is dark, cramped, and of no particular value. In a cold and mostly lifeless universe, consciousness developed by chance, meaning nothing and leading nowhere. Life, to quote Shakespeare, is a “tale told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
In our modern world where cynicism is often misunderstood as wisdom, and the two royal roads to Truth of Science and Religion have been corrupted so often into, respectively, Scientism and Demogoguery, this temptation to “fleshiness” is even more of a danger than it was at the time Paul wrote these words.
Let our prayer today be for the grace to recapture that sense of wonder we claimed so naturally as children – but with a mature awareness of just how sacred the power of Imagination really is.
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)j
(Go to www.twentythirdpublications.com to find book-length versions of my writings on the scriptures.)