God lives here now. In this body, these bodies. God is aching with tired muscles and catching the flu and detecting cancerous cells and over-eating and going senile. God is in danger of being shot. God is denied advancement because the body God lives in has a uterus. God is starving this very body, because a perceived standard of beauty is so distorted it creates eating disorders. God is trapped in detention because the body God inhabits was brought across the border as a child, has no other home to go to, and no path to citizenship in this country.
It is scandalous and offensive to claim that a human body is God’s temple, God’s dwelling place. You bet it is; it is supposed to be. More offensive even than disrupting business in the Temple. The place where God meets us, is here – not in a spiritual sense, but a physical one. When you look into the eyes of Jesus or Isa or Yeshua, you are gazing into a temple in which God dwells.
One professor described Jesus’ actions in the Temple as performance art. It certainly has that effect. Flipping the tables of the money-changers, driving out the animals that were prescribed by God for the celebratory sacrifices in Hebrew Scripture, throwing coins on the ground like they were rocks. It provokes a reaction, maybe even a visceral, physical reaction from everyone who witnesses it.
About 5 years ago, a Cuban artist named Erik Ravelo created a set of photographs to highlight the plight of children, vulnerable in many ways throughout our world. In each one, a man is standing with back to the camera in the shape of a cross, and a child is hung on them, as if Jesus on the cross. A child dressed in Middle Eastern clothing, hung on a soldier refers to the on-going conflict in Syria. A child in school uniform, hanging on a gunman wearing a hoodie. An obese child, hanging on Ronald McDonald. And others. The images provoke an immediate visceral reaction. They’ve stuck with me, obviously for years, haunting other images I see.
The uproar around this series of photographs was really telling, though. People were offended that Mr. Ravelo used the image of the cross. That there were children’s bodies, in some of them, although all were at least partially clothed. The artist had to respond: “I still don’t understand why some people are mad at me, but they’re not mad about those problems. Some people get offended by the photos but not by the problems the photos want to talk about.”
God lives in this? Not in the artist’s depiction, but in the actual horrible desecration of children’s bodies that happens every day in our world? Or women’s bodies? Or elderly bodies? Or brown bodies? It’s offensive. It is heart-breaking.
I used to consider that the overturning of the money-changers’ tables in the Temple – at the beginning of Holy Week in the other 3 Gospels besides John – maybe contributed to the religious authorities feeling murderous enough to have Jesus crucified by the end of the week. But in this version, it seems like making a mess of the Temple was just a way to get people’s attention so they could question his authority and hear something more scandalous in his answer: when he refers to God’s Temple, Jesus is talking about his own body. “Jesus was not just ‘wearing’ a human body like a set of clothes. He was a human body, as inseparable from his body as you are from yours. And God was inseparable from him.”
What if God meets us in our bodies? When the Jews said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” what they were asking is, what authority do you have to do any of this? Christ’s authority is his body. He, like you, is made in the image of God, beloved as he is, so can walk through the world – and even rage through the world – acting with that authority.
Might we develop a different relationship with bodies if we actually trusted that God dwells here – our own bodies and other people’s? We don’t have to love Alzheimers or addiction or our bodies’ genetic predispositions, but as we abide in Christ and he in us, we are now the temples in which God dwells on earth. We can love the temple because God lives in it, in whatever state it is in.
When we exercise, tiny micro-tears occur in our muscles, which the body then repairs and adapts the muscles to better handle that activity. That’s how we develop strength in these bodies, through tears. These temples are in a constant state of flux: being torn down or built up, changing, aging, harassed, healing. And that’s the sign that God dwells here, not perfection.
Now, a warning against bad theology when our bodies are broken: I heard Kate Bowler a church history professor who has stage 4 colon cancer, discussing her book “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved” earlier this week. She talked about well-meaning people trying to make the destruction of her body carry some meaning or purpose, perhaps to tame the chaos and make life and God less fearful for themselves. She said in the MPR interview: “I loved my life before. I want it back.” The “after” is not better, more meaningful. But of course you learn things by experiencing how fragile all of us really are.
We learn too, how fragile God has chosen to be, by living in human bodies. Now that’s love.
We don’t want to believe that this is the point – that God lives and acts in frail human bodies. But there it is. Our bodies are so precious to God. It seems like a non-sequitor to most of our faith, like Jesus’ comment to people who are talking about the Temple, only he’s referring to his own body. We try to make our faith about belief or eternal life after death. But really it is about bodies, struggling through this life. Can these dry bones live? Can this brokenness ever hope for something better? Who will put themselves out there to physically block the bullets from my body? What happens to all our bodies matters deeply because God lives here.
Text: John 2:13-22