Friday, March 26, 2021

Will We Still Eat and Drink on Resurrection?

Does this mean our risen bodies will continue to live biologically? So many unanswered questions!

Resurrection is not an experience we can claim to know empirically and existentially. It is hard, if not impossible, to wrap our heads around the idea that one day our bodies will and must “rise” again after death. 

How is it possible for a corrupt body that has dissolved into preexisting matter to regain its original bodily form (if that’s what the Bible means by “resurrection”)? Think about it: Isn’t it pretty good if we could continue to exist spiritually after death and live in the blessedness of God’s everlasting kingdom? Why then does the Bible teach the necessity of regaining our bodily form? Will rejoining the body, which must exist in the temporal and spatial order and is subject to the limitations of senses, impede the freedom and spiritual clarity of our soul? Does resurrection signify a return to biological life (which appears to be the case for the risen Christ who ate and drank together with his disciples (cf. Jn 21:12-13, Lk 24:13ff))? For many years after my baptism, questions such as these had made me question the credibility of the resurrection stories in the gospel. I was unconvinced that the resurrection of the dead was a cosmic event of hope and joy, even if it was a Church teaching.

The resurrection account in this Sunday’s gospel, in which the risen Christ shows his wounds to his disciples twice - first in Thomas’ absence, and later when he returns - doesn’t answer all the questions above. But it does give us a good opportunity to examine some of them, especially those pertaining to the properties of the resurrected body.

First of all, the wounds on Jesus’ risen body. Are we to conclude from this appearance that the inflictions suffered by the biological body will somehow affect the risen body and remain intact even after resurrection? This cannot be a very enticing proposition for those hoping the resurrection would give them a perfect body! For hockey players living with no teeth and broken bones secured by screws, their only hope of regaining a healthy and complete body has just gone up in smoke! And what about Jesus’ subsequent appearance to his disciples on the seashore of Tiberias and his appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Jn 21: 1ff, Lk 24:13ff)? Both appearances involve the consumption of edibles. Does this mean our risen bodies will continue to live biologically? So many unanswered questions!

When in doubt, Pope Benedict XVI is one of the few mentors to whom I always turn. His answer? “Appearing, speaking, and sharing meals: these three self-manifestations of the risen Lord belong together; they were his ways of proving that he was alive” (Jesus of Nazareth I, p.271). In other words, the risen Christ ate not because he needed the nourishment of the food, but because he wanted his disciples to know that he had truly overcome death and was alive. Makes sense! But where did the food go after consumption? The Angelic Doctor has the answer: It was dissolved into preexisting matter (The Compendium of Theology, I.238). The same explanation is applicable to his wounds. They show on his risen body not because they must, but because the disciples need to see them.

What many Christians have often failed to fully comprehend, myself included, is the awesome power unleashed by the Pascal Mystery. The outpouring of salvific grace as a result of Jesus’ single, never-before-and-never-after redemptive act has truly rendered Satan’s stranglehold on humanity since the fall of Adam and Eve completely powerless. Not only have we been redeemed from sin by the blood of the Lamb of God; the body, corruptible and often in conflict with the spirit as it is, will also go through a complete transformation and renewal on the Last Day by virtue of the power of Jesus’ resurrection (cf. Romans 7:18-19; The Compendium of Theology, I.167)! As St. Paul has wisely observed in addressing the issue of the risen body: “It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42-44). 

On the 3rd day – the Easter Sunday – Jesus’ resurrection has literally changed everything! The 3rd day is also the 8th day, the first day of a new week. The theological significance of this day just cannot be overstated. St. Paul would go so far as to say, “And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith” (1 Cor 15:14).

This is heavy stuff, but let me explain. If the first week (or the first 7 days) brings the first creation (which is this world, whose creation has been detailed in the Book of Genesis), the second week, launched by the 8th day (which is also the 3rd day, the day of resurrection), ushers in the New Creation, of which we, the children of God, are a part. As a result of Jesus’ resurrection, our natural bodies will also be raised and glorified on the Last Day to share the glorious properties of Jesus’ resurrected body: impassibility, clarity, agility, and subtility (The Compendium of Theology, I.168; CCC645). Such properties are already on display in Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, including in this Sunday’s gospel. On that day, the spiritualized and glorified body will be fully permeated by the spirit and return to perfect unity and harmony with the soul (St. John Paul II, General Audience, December 9, 1981). 

This whole thing must come to pass just as our Lord has promised: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev 21:5). On that day, everything will be restored to its original beauty and fully reconciled to God through Christ, including the body (cf. Col 1:20). It’s truly a brand-new world. “There shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away” (Rev 21:4).

The Word of God Is Love Not Violence

Just as Isaiah’s nakedness doesn’t make him a flasher; Jesus’ destructive act doesn’t make him a violent person.

“Lord, you have the words of everlasting life” is the response to the Psalm reading for this Sunday. The Psalm passages are quoted from Psalm 19 – my favorite psalm.

Psalm 19 begins with a beautiful, high-spirited exaltation, paying tribute to God’s magnificent creation that speaks. Speaks? Yes, God’s creations – the sun and the moon, the sunrise and the sunset, the flowers and the trees, the mountains and the valleys – speak; using a language that “proclaims its builder’s craft”; communicating a message that imparts knowledge and wisdom; uttering a sound that cannot be heard and yet resonates loud and clear “to the ends of the world” (cf. Ps. 19:2-4)! What the psalmist is extolling is the word of God; a word that is “perfect”, “true” and “just” (Ps. 19:8-10). 

Earlier in the first reading, the same word, pronounced by God in the midst of a theophany as part of His covenant with the holy people on Mount Sinai, is solemnly promulgated: delivered through Moses, the intercessor between God and His people; given to Israel, who promises with one voice to “do everything that the Lord has told us” (Ex 24:3); and decreed in the Decalogue, which means literally the “ten words” or the Ten Commandments (CCC 2059-2060). Written on two separate tablets – three on one and seven on the other – these are words of love: “the first three concern love of God, and the other seven love of neighbor” (CCC 2067).

I always remember what my professor taught me when I was taking a course on the Old Testament at the St. Augustine Seminary of Toronto. He said the Greeks lived in a world of numbers, but the Israelites lived in a world of word, dynamic and prophetic. Word to them is electricity to us – a force that makes things happen and is indispensable. At this point, every reader who is human and breathing would probably ask, having gone this far in reading the Bible, “Who is this word”?

John began his gospel by tackling this question head on: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). The Word is further identified as Christ incarnate, who “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14). But if Jesus, the Word of God, is “perfect”, “true” and “just”, as the Psalm reading tells us he is; and if the Decalogue - the 10 words of love - also finds its origin in him; how are we supposed to understand the act of violence committed by the same Word of God in this Sunday’s gospel? What Jesus did was unambiguously violent: “He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables” (John 2:15). 

Let’s be very clear. It will be ignorance to the extreme for anyone to suggest that the temple cleansing story is meant to justify the use of force. Let’s face it; it would take a radically different direction for Jesus, whose ministry and message throughout the gospel are all about love, peace, and humility, to suddenly promote violence. Those who read the Johannine narrative in context can’t possibly miss its culminating theme, namely, that the temple is a sign of Christ’s body, which will be destroyed and raised up in three days – an allusion to the Cross and the Resurrection (Note 1). This is how Jesus explains his action: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

Still, why is it necessary for him to resort to a violent act to communicate his theological message? To truly understand Jesus’ action, we must keep in mind his prophetic ministry and how it works. If I were to pick 10 OT promises that any scriptural reader must remember at all times, this one, revealed by Moses, would be one of them: "A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kinsmen; to him you shall listen” (Dt. 18:15). Turned out, the promised prophet is Jesus – the Prophet of all prophets. 

The OT prophets came from, shall we say, a very special species. They were mostly shunned by the very people they were summoned to enlighten: kings, political leaders, and religious authorities. Sometimes they had to do very unusual things in order to drive home their messages. Hosea married a harlot in order to show Israel God’s displeasure with its infidelity. Ezekiel was asked to eat bread baked on cow’s dung in order to forewarn the Israelites of the abomination of having to eat unclean food while in exile (Eze 4:12-15). God’s instruction to Isaiah was even more bizarre: He was asked to walk naked and barefoot through Jerusalem for 3 years! The prophet followed God’s order to a tee, not because he enjoyed exposing himself – God forbid! - but because he needed to convince the Judeans of their futile attempt to court the Egyptians and Ethiopians. These nations were bound to be defeated by the Assyrians and taken away as captives in their nakedness (Is. 20:3-6).

Given Jesus’ prophetic ministry and the way it works, it’s fair to conclude that there’s a deeper significance to Jesus’ destructive act in the cleansing of the temple. Just as Isaiah’s nakedness doesn’t make him a flasher; Jesus’ destructive act doesn’t make him a violent person. Both acts are prophetic, meant to communicate a prophetic message. In Jesus’ case, the message is to warn the Jews of the violent destruction of the temple (which happened in 70 A.D.). The temple is his body. The destruction of a temple made by human hands is the beginning of the new Temple in heaven. It’s a sign pointing to the Cross and the Resurrection. He himself is the new Temple, the Body of Christ, the Church. Through Christ, a new way of worshipping God is about to begin, when all peoples are gathered and united in the sacrament of his body and blood, worshipping God “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23, note 2).

Note 1: See Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament on John 2:19.

Note 2: See Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week, pp. 21-22.


Madness or Love? It’s all in the Eyes of the Beholder

Call him a madman, a weirdo, or anything you want; the reality is, the fire in Paul’s heart, ignited by the Spirit, is something people won’t understand unless they are prepared to welcome the same Spirit into their hearts.

A friend of mine has a rather unusual position on the issue of parenthood. In his view, the world we live in is full of sorrows and tribulations. He thinks bringing innocent children into this world of toils and snares is both unfair and cruel because you are effectively making them suffer against their will; which is also why he and his wife have decided against having children. His view is unusual but not uncommon these days in a world captivated by the culture of death. Obviously, this is not what the Church teaches. The Church has always encouraged parenthood. It’s considered the culmination of the married couple’s expression of love, which gives rise to a selfless and generous participation in the creative work of God (CCC1652).

My friend’s pessimistic life view will find resonance in Job’s words in this Sunday’s first reading. “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings?”, Job asks as he struggles to understand the sudden onslaught of misfortunes that have left his life in tatters and complete disarray (Job 7:1). Abandoned and mocked by his friends - even by his wife - Job begins to see life as a “drudgery”; a futile and meaningless exercise that one must grudgingly put up with. This is a very dark mindset that often drives people desperate for a way out to end their own life or, in my friend’s case, avoid starting a new one. In fact, ending his life is exactly what Job is counseled to do. “Curse God and die”, his wife yells at him in disgust (Job 2:9). 

A suicidal mind is, of course, not what the Bible wants from us. After many difficult struggles; heated arguments with friends, who openly question his claim of innocence; and serious intellectual reflections that include a heart-to-heart discussion with God, Job finally regains his trust in God. In the end, he is convinced that God is always in control in spite of the inexplicable personal misfortunate that befell him; and that God, in His unfathomable wisdom and omnipotence, has a plan that is simply too profound for the human mind to fully comprehend.

God’s plan certainly is difficult to comprehend, but Job’s decision to continue to trust God in spite of personal sufferings and devastations is not any easier to understand for many people. It takes faith and humility. When I first read Job while taking a university course on Medieval Philosophy, I hastily wrote the book off as “blind faith”. As a young and aspiring “philosopher”, I considered it an affront to my rational mind. But what goes around comes around. So many years later – now that I’m done studying, done raising children, done pursuing a career, done admiring the philosophers, done ridiculing the Bible – I find myself embracing Job’s position unreservedly. I honestly believe that of all the explanations and solutions put forward by all the great thinkers, philosophers and theologians alike on the issue of suffering, Job’s is the only sensible one. 

What have changed? Just one thing really: my heart. Where the person gloriously enthroned in there used to be me, now it is Jesus - him and only him, front and center, unreserved and all-consuming. That’s it? That’s it. The change didn’t come easy. But when it did, repentance followed; so did faith and humility and a rush for action to proclaim the unspeakable joy of knowing Christ. The experience was just overwhelming, consuming my whole being, pushing me hard to make up for lost time. 

The urge was irresistible - almost panicky. It was a powerful awakening that “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). Like the three thousand who heard Peter’s gospel message and received baptism on Pentecost, the urgency just dawned on you powerfully. As though your life depended on it, you blurted out loud desperately: “What are we to do?” (Acts 2:37). No one can express the urgency I experienced better than Paul when he says in this Sunday’s 2nd reading, “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” (1 Cor 9:16); and again elsewhere, “For the love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor 5:14). 

For many people, Paul and people like Job should simply be written off as madness. Felix, the Roman governor, was one of them. "You are mad, Paul; much learning is driving you mad", he shouted after hearing Paul’s spiritual conversion story and his defense against the charges made by the Jews (Acts 26:24). Call him a madman, a weirdo, or anything you want; the reality is, the fire in Paul’s heart, ignited by the Spirit, is something people of this world won’t understand, unless they are prepared to welcome the same Spirit into their hearts. 

People call what they don’t understand “madness”. For them, Jesus who preaches in the synagogues and performs healings tirelessly in various villages in this Sunday’s gospel may well be just another madman rejected by the world – one who “came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (John 1:11). For my friend, parenthood may well be just another form of madness. But if faith in God, proclaiming the gospel, and promoting the culture of life are different forms of madness; madness is what we must choose.