1 Cor 15:12.16-20; Lk 6:17-26; Jer 17:5-8
Today I want to reflect on St Paul’s teaching about the importance of the physical reality of the Resurrection, as we heard in our second reading.
The Corinthians that St Paul was writing to lived in the midst of Greek philosophy. The descendants of the philosopher Socrates valued the mind and the soul, but had a low opinion of the body. In fact, Plato spoke of the body as being a prison for the soul, something that the soul wants to be liberated from. For these Greek philosophers, the whole purpose of philosophy was to escape the body. Death, as a consequence, was seen as a great release, a release from the prison of body.
Imagine, therefore, what these Greeks thought when the early Christians spoke about a resurrection of the body, of the soul be re-united with the body. To the Greeks, this would sound like being re-imprisoned. The early Christians came along and spoke of the Lord Jesus being resurrected, and the Greeks laughed -not so much because they thought it unlikely, as because they thought it undesirable (c.f. Acts 17:18).
St Paul, as we briefly heard, was writing to those who were “saying that there is no resurrection of the dead”(1 Cor 15:12) -he was writing to those under the influence of these Greek philosophers.
St Paul was emphatic that everything hinges on the physical resurrection. In fact, a very large part of the whole first letter to the Corinthians dwells on this truth.
To believe in the Resurrection is to believe in a TRANSFORMATION of this world.
To believe in the Resurrection is believe not in escaping this world, but of it being made anew.
The body of the Lord Jesus not only came back to life, it was transformed, it became a thing of glory.
If this is true, it changes the whole manner in which we relate to this world:
On one hand, we treat the things of this world as real.
We care for the sick and poor, because they are real.
We seek to transform the world with love, because the world is real and valuable.
The things of this world will pass and change, but they are real.
On the other hand, we relate to this world as a thing passing, a thing that will be changed and transformed.
Thus, as both our first reading and Gospel texts insisted, we do not live for “riches” (Lk 6:24) or for the pleasures of the “flesh”(Jer 17:5).
The Christian is thus called to “deny himself” (Lk 9:23) if he is to follow the Lord Jesus.
St Paul is very emphatic about a conclusion of all this: if we live “for this life only, we [Christians] are the most unfortunate of all people” (1 Cor 15:19).
-we will have denied ourselves pleasures, we will have regulated and disciplined our bodies, but there will be no future body to come.
For us who live TODAY, in the 21stCentury, there is an implicit challenge in all this:
Do we live for this world, or for the transformed resurrected world to come?
Do we truly deny ourselves in this world, in the hope of the resurrection to come?
Do we give to the poor, to the extent that it affects our ability to enjoy riches ourselves?
If we TRULY believe in the Resurrection, then the answer to these questions should be logical.
If, however, we only half-believe it,
if we actually live in the same way as those who think there is ONLY this world to live for,
Then, to apply St Paul’s words differently, “we are the most unfortunate of all people”(1 Cor 15:19).