This week in the gospel we hear about Jesus getting angry in the temple. The first part of the reading focuses on Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple. The other gospels put that story at the end of Jesus’ ministry, and historically many scholars believe this act of sedition may have been the reason why the Roman Empire had Jesus executed.
But for whatever reason, the author of the fourth gospel doesn’t put the story at the end of Jesus’ ministry. The author puts it near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; a story that helps define who Jesus will be instead of how he will die. And lots of that definition is in the second half of the story.
The conversation turns in the second half of the reading to the nature of the temple. Seemingly from out of nowhere, Jesus brings into focus the destruction of the temple, and says he will raise it in three days— and directs us (the audience) towards the idea that the temple is not a building that took many years to build but Jesus’ body. Right here early in his ministry, the author of the fourth gospel introduces the idea of how important the incarnation is; of how important Jesus’ body is. This is not a distant God, accessed only in powerful buildings built by many generations. This is a living God who has become flesh and has a body accessible anywhere, maybe even around the next corner.
I love that this gospel starts with the question of where the holy and human meet, with redefining temple. For many of us the holy and human meet in the beauty of cathedral light and sound. For some they meet in the quiet of the labyrinth. Last week I was at a conference in San Antonio discussing with colleagues whether the holy and human could meet in the music of Lady Gaga. Where do the holy and human meet for you? I believe the answer is very personal— and that is partially because we are embodied creatures.
The beauty of this opening to Jesus’ ministry in the fourth gospel is that for this author the holy and the human meet in a body. In Jesus’ body, to be precise. It is sometimes easy for progressive Christianity to make light of claims of the divine. What does it mean to be God? And what does it mean if that God becomes human— not just putting on a human costume, but actually becoming human?
For me, it is the core of Christianity- this intersection of humanity and divinity. This divine human weaving his life into the lives of the disciples and community around him, eating with them, healing them, hurting with them— that is how we get a glimpse of what the divine life looks like. It seems to look a lot like love: real love of real embodied people.
It looks like a man feeding a hungry crowd with a few scraps of bread and a few fish. It looks like calling down an outcast from a tree. It looks like welcoming the children. It looks like healing a blind man who has never been able to see. All of these are very bodily experiences.
So this question of where the divine, the holy- the creator of all things seen and unseen- where that God shows up and intersects with our human selves— is a big one. And I get how the world around us can believe that we, the church, have fallen into the same pattern the author of the fourth gospel is trying to break: that it may look like we limit our search for God to a place to some, in exactly the way this gospel directs us not to.
Here at St. Paul’s, I love to have the opportunity to talk to different folks about where they meet God in embodied and incarnational ways. In an inquirer’s class last fall, a small group was transformed when we heard the story of seeing God in children on a playground. Time and again, I have heard of seeing the meeting of divine and human in hospital rooms, and even of death and the loss of another’s body. Showers of Blessings seems to be another holy place at St. Paul’s where the holy takes on bodily form. For others being across the street from Balboa park provides an opportunity to see God in creation. And of course our beautiful worship transports us all with music and sacrament. This intersection of holy and human is broad and profound.
But It feels at time like this world treats bodies as disposable, or bad, or worthless. I wonder what it has done to us, this doctrine that presupposes that the good is up there somewhere and that everything else left here is bad?
How often bodies are rejected for being the wrong size. How many times do bodies endure suffering because of their gender, or ethnicity? Some bodies work differently, are differently abled— and pay a price. Illness causes bodily suffering and harm.
Whether we like it or not, we are bodies. This God of ours came to be a body too.
I wonder where you can find God in the bodies around you as we journey towards Jerusalem with the one who become a body to show us how much we- and our bodies- are beloved?
The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Lent 3B, March 4, 2018
St. Paul’s San Diego
Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 1. Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.