Acts 3:13–15, 17–19; 1 John 2:1–5a; Luke 24:35–48
We get an interesting juxtaposition this week in our first reading from Acts and the Gospel reading from Luke. Acts addresses the ignorance of the Jewish masses that Jesus was the Messiah and the Holy and Righteous One, the Author of Life. The Jews’ lack of faith lie in their inability to see in Jesus anything more than temporal messiah, which is what they were expecting. They could not see that He is the very the Author of Life.
The Gospel presents just the opposite—the Apostles’ lack of faith in accepting that Jesus died yet lived again. They could believe that He was now spirit, but could they accept that He was physically raised? Could the Apostles or anyone else in the early Church even accept that He was truly man?
Both of these books—Acts and the Gospel of Luke—were written by the same author, purported to be a physician by the name of Luke. While scholars don’t necessarily agree that this is the same Luke mentioned by St. Paul, they are almost unanimous that one person wrote both books, so unanimous that they refer to the books together as Luke-Acts—a two part work for the same audience. So you can see Luke’s work here as an attempt to address some of the mysteries of the day. And these mysteries were central to the struggles of the early Church. How can a man be God? Or better yet, how could God become man and die? Different groups came up with different answers to the question. The Pharisees simply called Jesus an imposter. Other Jewish groups said He was an inspired man, but not God. Still others thought He was semi-divine but created. We call those sects Arian, for the most part. Still others believed He was Divine with no true humanity. These were the Docetists (doketists), who believed that Jesus was never truly a physical being.
In regard to the last group, it’s important not to confuse them with the Donutists who believed in the divinity of Krispee Kremes.
This heresy is still rampant among us.
I might have made that last part up. There was a heresy called Donatism, but it didn’t have anything to do with donuts.
In any case, one of the constant conflicts in the early Church was with the very question of who Jesus was. Was He God or was He man? And the answer to that question is yes.
Yes, Jesus is God and man. Completely both at the same time. Now, do you see why this was a problem for the Jews? They struggled with this notion because God is supposed to be one, immortal, unlimited, and far beyond our understanding. Yet a man we could know. A man is mortal, finite, and limited. How could a man be God? And how could a man crucified be both righteous and God? To many of them, the story didn’t add up. Some Jews who continued to follow Jesus’ teachings still never accepted that Jesus was God. However, we also know that many Jewish followers of Jesus accepted that He was the Son of God and God incarnate. The 12 Apostles were all Jewish, and we understand Christ’s Divinity because of their teaching.
The Church’s understanding of Christ’s revelation took time to clarify. Clearly, St. John the Evangelist made clear what the Church understood about Christ by the end of the 1st century, and other Apostolic writings make clear that Jesus’ Divinity is without question. But it was Jesus’ existence as both God and man—as a spiritual and physical being in one hypostatic union, which means that He was a single person with both a Divine and human nature—that revelation took the Church a time to understand and define. But what is absolutely crystal clear in scripture and early Church teaching is that we are body and soul together. We are both physical and spiritual, as God created us, and God Himself looked upon this creation and found it “very good.”
The reality is that when we diminish one aspect over the other, we get ourselves in trouble, just as the followers of early heresy did. When we deny the spiritual and affirm only the physical, we eliminate so much of what makes the human experience meaningful. And that is a common problem especially with those who want to make claims for science and materialism. However, over-emphasis of the spiritual is just as damaging—perhaps even more so.
You might have heard people claiming to be spiritual but not religious, essentially dismissing bodies of organized religion for their own personal spiritual experience. This subjective, individualistic attitude toward faith and truth is especially harmful. The temptation is to think, “I’m more spiritual than those who accept religious dogma, and more enlightened than those who follow a creed and put their trust in human institutions.”
It is, simply, the height of arrogance. Artur Rosman, a blogger on the Patheos Catholic portal, recently wrote the following in response to such notions: “What else is the Devil than a purely angelic… spirit who tempts us into thinking we are much more spiritual than others?” He wrote this in response to another philosopher and Catholic convert, Fabrice Hadjadj, who said in a recent interview, “Thus evil is not first located in the body, but is instead connected to the spirit.”
In claiming to be spiritual and not religious, one separates from and dismisses the body as unimportant.
I don’t need a Church. I don’t have to do all of these physical rituals to show that I have a relationship with God. Yet what is it to deny religion than to separate oneself from the physical. When we claim we don’t need a church, we reject the very Body of Christ.
This was the attitude of the Docetists. This was the attitude of the Gnostics. This was the reason the Greeks at the Areopagus ridiculed St. Paul in Acts 17, and derided the notion that a man could or would even want to be raised from the dead.
Yet our faith insists on the goodness of the body. Jesus, in Luke, proves to the Apostles that His body has been raised by eating in front of them. It is His insistence not only that we are raised from the dead spiritually but that we will be resurrected physically. And we profess that truth every Sunday in the creed.
We are an Incarnational people. We are a sacramental people. Christ and Our Church are the greatest signs of our Sacramental and Incarnational faith.
We believe that we will be raised bodily as Christ was. We believe in the sacramental efficacy of matter and form in baptism, in confirmation, and in the Eucharist which we will celebrate in just a few minutes. We are not merely spiritual. We are religious because we are body, soul, and spirit. And God looks down on us, His creation and the pinnacle of visible creation, and says that it is very good.