Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The temple of his body

Consider the following incident in the Gospel according to John: 
Making a whip of cords, [Jesus] drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me" [Ps 69:9]. The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken (John 2:15-22).

I am fascinated by Jesus' consciousness of his own divinity. He proposes his body as the temple of God, and furthermore speaks of himself as raising up his body from the dead. Jesus is not presented as one who had no knowledge of his own divinity, nor of one who depended utterly on God the Father without any sense of his own authority or initiative. Rather, in the scriptural narrative there are moments such as these in which his sense of his own status stands out clearly. These occur in the other gospels too, of course, but at this moment and in this gospel it is particularly pronounced.

Jesus spoke about raising up his own body from the dead. He is the subject of that proposition: in three days I will raise it up. At the same time, John has no problem speaking about Jesus being raised from the dead, This tells me that we ought not read too much into the grammar of some scriptural assertions regarding the causality of Jesus' resurrection, because both formulas appear. On the one hand, Jesus was raised from the dead: this communicates a posture of passivity, receptivity, etc. On the other hand, Jesus also says that he himself will raise up his body from the dead. As he elsewhere says, No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again (John 10:18). In this sense, Jesus's resurrection is an active operation of his own power as God, since clearly only God has the power to raise up a dead body to life.

Jesus also considers his body to be a temple, a house in which the presence of God is especially present. He doesn't consider himself to be a temple, as if God were something outside of himself altogether but in some strange way present within him. On the contrary, he says that his body is the temple, signifying his human nature as a whole. Since Jesus clearly identifies himself with the divine nature through the assertion of his power to raise up his body from the dead, he does not view himself as a merely human receptacle for the divine presence. Rather, I and the Father are one (John 10:30). Here we see a scriptural basis for Athanasius' language of the Logos of God using his body as an instrument by which he accomplished salvation: the same instrumentality is implicit in Jesus' own language about his body as a temple which he inhabits.

There is also something interesting to note in the citation of Ps 69. John says that the disciples remembered that particular passage of scripture, and after the resurrection of Jesus, they believed it. Did they not believe in the scripture prior to that? On the other hand, interpreted merely as the sentiment of the human author of that psalm from long ago, there is not really anything to believe in. The psalmist is telling us what he will feel: zeal for the house of the Lord. Very well! For the disciples to believe that scripture, they have to had understood something more behind it than merely the autobiographical predictions of the author. On the contrary, behind the voice of the author, they discerned the voice of the preexisting Word of God: they sensed in the words of the psalm the voice of Christ, who was predicting this tumultuous experience in the Temple even long ago, before having taken a body. The apostles learned in this way to read scripture differently, certainly very differently from the modernist, socio-grammatical hermeneutic of our times. Behind the author of the scripture and his particular context is the Logos, who is speaking secretly, mysteriously about his imminent incarnation and salvific work. In this particular, embodied text is an eternal voice which speaks out from before time.

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