The ‘Body of Christ,’ for the Body of the Earth

Commentary
By William P. Brown 4-17-2017

According to John’s Gospel, a moment of perplexity ensued during the disciples’ first encounter with the resurrected Christ. Jesus is not recognized by the disciples until he shows them his “hands and his side.” The resurrected Jesus is recognized not by his words, but by his wounds of his crucifixion.

Herein lies a great irony. The crucifixion has left its indelible marks upon the resurrected one, such that the risen Jesus is recognizable only through them. On the one hand, resurrection has not erased his wounds. On the other hand, Jesus’ wounds no longer define him as a dead criminal, as determined by the state. Jesus doesn’t wince at Thomas’s touch. Even as his wounds remain, Jesus’ body is made whole and new.

The text does not say what Thomas felt at this tactile moment. The account is more concerned with sight than with touch. And yet there is a touch of the tactile in this account, much like in Genesis 2:7 when God is said to have “formed the adam from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” This isn’t Michelangelo’s depiction in the Sistine Chapel of a white Adam and a patriarchal God, “connected” only by separated fingers. The God of Genesis is the one who gets dirty working the soil to fashion a body, a “groundling,” and give it life. When Jesus, according to John, “breathed on” the disciples to impart the Holy Spirit (v. 22), something happens comparable to God breathing into Adam, filling his lungs. New life is given, and along with new life, new responsibility. For Adam, this leads to the responsibility of caring for the garden; for the disciples, the responsibility of becoming church.

It is with this sense of bodily intimacy that we must acknowledge that there is more to Jesus’ wounds than simply the matter of visual identification. Jesus’ wounds bear permanent, tangible testimony to his crucifixion. Hence, they serve as an enduring, visceral reminder of our capacity to commit violence against others, even as we are called to love the other. Christ’s body has absorbed the ravages of human violence for all to see, touch, and ponder, not to avoid or turn away from. Christ’s wounds remind us that Jesus was crucified by the powerful to maintain the status quo, religiously and politically.

Today, our planet is being crucified by the powerful, its greatest consumers, which includes most of us reading this text. With the Environmental Protection Agency about to be eviscerated and a pro-fossil fuel government now firmly in place, the forward-thinking, albeit modest, policies set by previous administrations are being dismantled. The setbacks will be real, many of them irreversible: countless species extinctions, collapse of fisheries, rampant deforestation, demise of coral reefs, rising sea levels, acidified oceans, and, of course, rising global temperatures, caused by the unprecedented rise in greenhouse gases from industrial nations. The human toll is mounting: famine and drought yielding starvation and death with increasing frequency across the globe, more and more refugees fleeing their drought-stricken lands or sinking coasts, a rise in mental health issues for those who have suffered repeated flooding and storms. We cannot look away.

Thanks in part to science (and not hoaxes), the wounds of the world are becoming ever more visible as they strike ever more deeply into our lives. As our modern-day sentinel, the scientist continues to sound the alarm ever more vigorously, recognizing that the wounds we inflict today will endure for a long time to come, to be suffered by our children and their descendants. As people of faith, we recognize that the root causes of climate change are not CO2 emissions from SUVs and coal-fired power plants, or methane emissions from Concentrated Animal Farming Operations (CAFOs), but rather human greed, narrow vision, indifference to the plight of others, and the fear of lifestyle changes, all insisted upon in the name of individual freedom and market free capitalism. The GDP has become our Gross Depletion of the Planet.

Does Jesus’ appearance to his disciples speak to our difficult entry into this “long emergency”? On so many levels. But here are two, one negative and one positive. First, the wounds we inflict will endure. The planet we pass on to our children will not, and does not, resemble the planet we inherited. Jesus shows us that his wounds cannot be glossed over. Rather, they must be seen and felt . . . and believed! Perhaps the bridge that can bring together liberal and conservatives is having visceral contact with the deepening wounds of the earth, personal contact with flesh and blood victims of polluted water, drought, flooding, and storm. On the positive side, in Jesus we bear witness to a moral vision of life in which the beloved community understands itself as part of, and on behalf of, the biotic community: the Body of Christ for the body of Earth. It is a vision birthed in resurrection hope, in which wholeness and renewal remain a gifted reality, and yet reality that is also something to strive for, as much as to hope for. It is the church taking seriously its calling to be a sign of the new creation, the enduring dream of God at work among those who have hope, or who desperately need it: “See, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Wounds included.

Via ON Scripture.

William P. Brown is an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.

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