3rd Sunday of Easter B: Our Body is Important

Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.” Jesus appears to His disciples after the Resurrection. They know that he was killed. They know that His body had disappeared from the tomb. However, they think they must be seeing a ghost.

Jesus makes it clear to them that they are not seeing a ghost. The language of flesh and bones, this talk of touching Jesus, like with Thomas touching the wounds in His hands and His feet, is intended to make us understand the resurrection of Jesus included His physical body.

It is important that the appearances of Jesus highlighted His physical presence which ate and drank and could be touched as part of His resurrection.  A human person is not meant to experience earthly life or eternal life as a disembodied spirit like an angel.

Various groups throughout history have taught, and continue to teach, that what you do to the body has no impact on one’s soul or spiritual life.   It’s founder was Mani.  Mani lived in Persia (present day Iran) in the third century.  He taught a form of dualism:  A spirit world of light and goodness and a material world of dark and evil.  Mani’s teachings took many forms as it spread throughout Persia to China, Arabia, and the Roman Empire.

Mani taught that a human soul falls from the spirit world of goodness into the dark and evil world when a child takes flesh in the womb of its mother.  The human soul and body are in constant struggle with each other.  Buddhism and Islam were both influenced by Mani’s teachings: the Chinese philosophy of Ying and Yang teaches this dualism between good and evil and Muslims will never accept that God would ever take on human flesh.  In modern times, the Star Wars movies are set in a world consisting in a battle between the light side and the dark side.  Anakin Skywalker as the chosen one is meant to bring balance between these two sides in this never-ending struggle in which no side is finally victorious over the other.

Saint Augustine embraced Manichaeism as a young man who was able to indulge in sins of the flesh, so long as he kept his soul pure.  He wrote: I still thought that it is not we who sin but some other nature that sins within us. It flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it … I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me. The truth, of course, was that it was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner.

The physical and the spiritual are not separate entities. They are aspects of one entity: a human person. Body and soul go together and nurturing one, nurtures the other. Likewise, harming one harms the other. Dangers abound if we try to separate the body from the soul. We could think that the soul is more important than the body, but the reality is that neglect of the body will have a negative impact on the soul as Saint Augustine eventually understood.

This may seem to have strayed a long way from the matter of Jesus’ appearance to His disciples, but what this story of Jesus’ flesh and bones tells us, is that the body and the soul are not separated in the way that we sometimes tend to think they are. The message is that God made us whole, body and soul. The fact that Jesus still has a body that can eat and drink, even after the Resurrection, tells us something about the dignity and importance of our body. Our bodies are not irrelevant to who we are. We can’t be who we are, without being bodies. So somebody, who abuses and hates the body, abuses and hates themselves. We are spiritual and bodily people. “Touch me and see for yourselves”, Jesus says, “a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.”