11 November 2007

We are Christians NOT Platonists

32nd Sunday OT(C): 2 Macc 7.1-2, 9-14; 2 Thess 2.16-3.5; Luke 20.27-38
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Paul
and Church of the Incarnation

We affirm it every week at Mass. We claim to believe it as a fundamental tenet of our faith. Without it everything we hold to be true about Christ, our lives with him now and for eternity makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, this event, and the promise of its eventual repetition for us all, gave the apostles what little courage they had to hang on after Jesus’ death, the steadfastness they needed until the Holy Spirit swept through them like a brushfire and gave birth to the Church! In answer to the Sadducees’ attempt to confound his faith, Jesus teaches them and us a rock bottom basic truth of our ancestors’ faith: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob is “not a God of the dead, but a God of the living. . .to Him all are alive!” As the killer of Death, Jesus announces to anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see that the God and Father of all is Himself alive, a living and loving God; and for those for whom He is Lord and King, He is creator and ruler of the living, source and end of all life everlasting. We will say it again this morning/evening, so let me quote it to you now: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

Without knowing it most of you are religious Platonists when it comes to what you believe about your death and your life after death. I am willing to bet that most of you believe that you are your soul; that is, who you are as a person is best described as “my soul.” My soul is who I am. And I bet that most of you believe that when you die your soul is separated from your body and your body goes into the ground and your soul travels to heaven (or to purgatory or hell). Most of you believe that eternal life is a life lived for a really long time as a spiritual entity, some sort of indestructible ghost. Immortality then is the promise of living forever as a spirit, a soul without a body, a ghost without its machine.

This false notion is the root of our sometimes obsessive disdain for the body while we are alive here on earth. Religious Platonists believe we must temper the body in order to exalt the soul. The body is a trap, a cave, an anchor holding the pure spirit down, weighing down our mournful souls who want nothing more than to be free of the flesh and soaring unimpeded back to God who is pure spirit, pure soul. How often do you lament the weaknesses of your body? How often you do attribute your sinfulness to a tempted body, your flesh enticed and conquered by the flashy but ultimately empty promises of passing disobedience? Wouldn’t we all be better Christians, more pure, just better people in general, if we did not have to contend with the appetites of these smelly, disease-prone, slowly dying and decaying bodies?

If you think this Platonism is limited to Christians, think again. Our materialist culture holds to a rather perverse version of this heresy. Being happy is about controlling the body. Diets. Exercise. Plastic surgeries. Props, potions, pills, powders, ointments, lotions, gels, needles, patches—a whole pharmacology of chemical mixtures designed to give us control of the body b/c we believe that absolute control of the body is the key to our happiness. If you think the religious zealot is hateful to the spiritually indifferent or to those who actively reject his belief, just try to talk to a true Gym Bunny or a Gym Jock. Their utter distain for your physical weakness, your lack of motivation, your ill-defined abs and flabby butt, their venomous contempt for your high calorie, high fat diet and your ignorance of proper supplementation—all of these combine in a heart so spiritually pure in its hatred for the body that these Gym Bunnies and Jocks would scare the dungeon masters of the Spanish Inquisition with their zealotry! Make no mistake: their torturous routines on those robotic machines are not about loving the flesh…no, no, the flesh must be denied, tamed, shaped, and beaten into submission. And who or what is it that must conquer these mushy muscles? The will. The wanting. The desire. Yes, yes. It is the soul. Thank God we are Christians and not Religious Platonists!

Jesus is confronted by a party of Jewish philosophers and theologians known as the Sadducees. This group of highly educated men reject the recent developments of Jewish religious thought and argue vehemently against the resurrection of the body after death. Jesus and the Pharisees, appealing more to the common people and accepting recent theological progress, preach and teach the resurrection of the dead. The question posed to Jesus about the woman with multiple marriages is designed to expose the trendy teaching on the resurrection of the dead as scripturally unsound. Think of the question as a sort of “what if” problem. The Sadducees think that Jesus is going to have to answer them in one of two ways: 1) either deny the resurrection and say that the woman is not married to all those men simultaneously or 2) affirm the resurrection and say that she is married to them all at the same time. Either way the Sadducees are proven correct in their rejection of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Jesus, being Jesus and no one’s fool, does the unexpected. He affirms the resurrection and denies that the woman is married to seven men at the same time. How? Death marks the end of this life. The resurrection is the sure sign of new life. Those who are resurrected no longer marry nor do they die. In other words, a marriage is ended at death. Once we are dead and come to see the Lord face-to-face, we no longer need sacraments as external signs of His presence and grace. We are His presence and grace!

So, what is the resurrection of the dead? Or, as the Apostles’ Creed puts it “the resurrection of the body”? If you are not just your soul but your body AND your soul, then for You to share in the divine life, for You to partake of the divine nature in heaven, You must be You, that is, your soul AND your body, whole and entire, the complete person, the completed You. Our God is the God of the living not the dead “because to Him all are alive.” With the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, we too are made worthy to suffer, die, and rise with him. Just as he was given a body glorified and transfigured, so will we. Just as he was lifted into heaven, so will we. Just as Moses called “Lord” and just as Christ cried out “Lord,” so we too shout out “Lord!” Knowing that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Lord of Lord, and King of Kings is the God of the living—those who live always under His dominion!

If any of this is true for us, then we have to think carefully about how we live now. What is the moral theology of living now as dead folks who will live in transfigured glory? In other words, what does it mean for you right now to be a man or woman or child who has died with Christ in baptism, risen again to his eat and drink at his altar, and now live renewed until your natural death to rise again with him body and soul? It means we wait in joyful hope for the coming of the Lord—praying, fasting, believing, daily, hourly; working, sleeping, eating, daily, hourly; dressing, loving, feeding the hungry, daily, hourly; healing, forgiving, listening to the Word; daily, hourly waiting, waiting, waiting on the coming of the Lord; doing daily, hourly what Christ has given us to do as if we were with him now because we ARE with him now. We are with his Body now doing what we the Body of Christ does: offering to our Father thanks and praise for the gift He made of Himself to us. Our God is the God of the living not the dead because for Him we are all, always living, always alive in the Spirit that is life everlasting!

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