I’m really not sure if this is going to become a habit of mine but I decided to write up some of my own thoughts on yesterday’s mass readings. I suppose these are usually the thoughts I have as I’m listening to the readings, somehow knowing that none of them will make it into the homily. Though I can understand that to the extent that the priest probably will want to avoid describing Greek words… Well, read on and tell me what you think because I think all this is easy to explain and quite interesting.
The obvious theme of the readings today was the resurrection of the body. Ezekiel, who prophesied that God himself would shepherd his people (Jesus Christ, the good shepherd!), speaks today of the fact that God will open our graves and give life to our mortal bodies.
St. Paul, however, in his letter to the Romans shows us the spiritual meaning of the resurrection spoken of in Ezekiel. Our first parents (and we along with them) die physically because they died first spiritually. St. Paul teaches elsewhere that death is a result of sin. Think of it this way, three metal pieces are connected together because of a magnet. Remove the magnet and the metal pieces fall apart. God is the magnet and our souls, bodies, and relationships with each other are the metal pieces. When our souls rebelled from God through sin, that severed relationship also severed the relationship we have with our bodies and with each other.
Only Christ can restore these severed relationships – but He does so through the work and grace of the Holy Spirit.
There are two verses in this passage which some have made quite controversial: “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit” (Romans 8:8-9). The controversy I refer to is the body-soul dualistic controversy which states that the body (flesh) is bad while the soul (spirit) is good. This is the old Gnostic heresy that keeps creeping up every couple hundred years or so.
The two Greek words for flesh and spirit are sarx and pneumo. Ever heard of the word sarcasm (and I’m really not trying to be sarcastic here)? It comes in part from the Greek word meaning flesh, that is, sarx. It means the tearing of the flesh. Sarcasm can cut. Deeply. In a sense, sarx has a deathly feel to it. In the Bible, sarx means fallen human nature. Our living bodies which have only natural life and our souls which lack divine life. I’ll get back to the two lifes in a minute. Pneumo, on the other hand, is life giving. It means spirit – that is, air or breathe. When a man’s chest stops rising and falling we know his pneumo (spirit) has left his body.
The Spirit (pneumo) of God gives supernatural life to the person, elevating the natural, albeit fallen (sarx) life, to divine life. The Greek word for natural life is bios, from which we get the word biology. Through grace we receive zoe, or divine life. Once the soul receives this life and with it a renewed relationship with God, it is only fitting that the body and the communion of saved humanity (i.e. the Communion of Saints) should be renewed as well.
And if all those Greek words weren’t enough, how about two more: psyche and soma, that is, soul and body. The term psychosomatic stress refers to the fact that stress on the mind (or soul; psyche) can have dramatic impact on the body (or soma). There’s a HUGE difference between soma and sarx – so it’s very important for us in an anti-body society to remember that St. Paul is not attacking the body or natural bodily desires when he refers to the flesh. The flesh, however, can be very dangerous in the sense that our souls are very influenced by the desires of the flesh (fallen human nature). Before the Fall of Adam and Eve, our souls had full command over our bodies. Now, in fallen human nature, our bodies see cookies (which can harm us if too many are eaten) and says: “Yummy, I want that.” And even though we know we shouldn’t eat the cookie we somehow give in to the flesh. Get my point?
Well this post has gone on pretty long so I’m going to wrap up the Gospel quite quickly. Two points. First off, when Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus, he weeps. He sees what sin has done in dividing the psyche from the soma, the soul from the body. This was not the way God designed it. Death is not simply a part of life. Death is not natural. Death is a result of the abuse of free will. It is our sinful choices which end our lives.
But the second point is that death (and pain) is not meaningless. Jesus says that he will use the raising of Lazarus “…for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11). Here it is important to remember that Lazarus is not be resurrected as Jesus was. He is being resuscitated. He would one day die once more. My point is that if the death and resuscitation of Lazarus happened for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it, how much more so will our deaths and TRUE resurrections be?
Know that when you die, you die for two reasons: at first because of sin but now in Christ "for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it" – through your future resurrection in the same Christ. The Gospel (or Good News) always greatly overshadows sin (the bad news)! God is good!