Saying #29

(29) Jesus said: If the flesh came into existence because of the spirit, it is a marvel. But if the spirit (came into existence) because of the body, it is a marvel of marvels. But as for me, I wonder at this, how this great wealth made its home in this poverty.

This saying expresses the disctinction for gnostics between the spirit and the flesh (or matter). There is a contempt for the material and a veneration for the spiritual … they believed we were more truly of the spirit (this great wealth) and are only temporarily mired here in matter (this poverty).

While there are some similar references in the canonical gospels, for the most part, this ascetic philosophy seems alien to the Jesus portrayed elsewhere. For instance, in Luke 7:34 and Matthwe 11:19, Jesus is accussed of being a drunkard and a glutton. And Jesus’ bodily resurrection would seem to imlpy that we are not made spiriit only after death, but that we still have bodies material enough to be touched/felt by others and material enough to enjoy the consumption of food … … “Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have ” … he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them. – Luke 24:39-43

It is through this philosophy that spirit and matter are oppossed, that the idea of who Jesus really was/is becomes problematic. According to gnostics, Jesus descends from the realm of spirits to dispenses gnosis and awaken those trapped in ignorance; the body is a prison, and the spirit alone is good; and salvation comes by discovering the “kingdom of God” within the self. He had no part in matter, did not suffer in death (First Apocalypse of James: “Never have I suffered in any way, nor have I been distressed”), was not bodily resurrected.

While I flinch at calling gnostics “world-hating dualists” πŸ™‚ I must disagree with this ethical division between the material and the spiritual, if only because of what it says about the nature of Jesus and our own state after death.

If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you. – Romans 8:11

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7 responses

  1. Thanks, Crystal. Your comment certainly contains truth, however the question of flesh and spirit is more complex, especially since these words have multiple meanings.You wrote, “they believed we were more truly of the spirit (this great wealth) and are only temporarily mired here in matter (this poverty).” Is that what Thomas meant by poverty? He might have meant this ‘fallen consciousness’ that we’re obsessed with, this hurrying to and fro and being obsessed with everything except the things of God.Paul did not give flesh the connotation of matter nor did Thomas necessarily give poverty that connotation.I suggest you read Romans 8 and pay special attention to what he seemed to mean by flesh.Then tell us what you think.

  2. I think Romans 8 backs up Crystal’s stance. Creation groans — it too is in bondage and hopes to be freed. And it (like us) is in bondage to powers and principalities — spiritual beings.

  3. Thanks for the comments, you guys. Sometimes I wonder why I’m even part of this group, trying to figure out what going on with God and how that affects me. Two months ago, I had four cats who I’d had for 15 years. Two have died since then of kidney disease. Today I found out that another one now has bladder cancer. He’s my friend, even though he’s just a cat, and I love him and now he’s going to suffer a lot and die. I prayed he would be well …. God doesn’t care, I guess.

  4. Sometimes I wonder why I’m even part of this group, trying to figure out what going on with God and how that affects me.That’s why we’re here too. That’s sort of the point of bible study — except when I fall into the trap of intellectual games.As for the suffering and death thing — at some point I stopped worrying about that stuff as a problem for faith. If I was going to believe in a God who loves and commands us to love as God loves — then I had to accept that love happens in the context of a world with suffering and death. I don’t think (or don’t remember it) as being something I worked out intellectuallly. I was just a change that happened sometime after I came to faith.I think its called grace.

  5. Crystal, you wrote, “I prayed he would be well …. God doesn’t care, I guess.” This really bothers me, my dear. God cares more than you or I have ever been able to understand. When I was a young adolescent, a man was the mainstay of the church my father served. He had a 4 year old girl who got diphtheria and died. The man became very bitter (had the same kind of feelings you had re your cat). I thought, do people expect God to answer every prayer to their satisfaction? I don’t know when or if he got over his bitter feelings. I do know his son became a minister.On those times when hard things intrude (minimal in my case) it tends to make me (us) closer to God, to depend on him, rest in him, know that everything is all right.I guess we might not have reacted like that if we weren’t completely sure that God does care, that he cares utterly beyond how we care for ourselves. Something better than your cat will happen to you.

  6. Dear Crystal,I am so sorry to hear of your cat’s health problems – and the loss of your other two feline friends. Loss of friends, be they human or animal, is difficult, and causes us to feel such sorrow. This sorrow is especially tender when it reminds us of other deeply felt losses, such as our precious parent. I’ve come to think of sorrow as a very rich feeling. It can kind of absorb us, and we feel sorrow with a twisted inside out quality, like wringing a towel. Perhaps it is the spirit and flesh twisted upon each other. But it is rich, and beautiful. Why is it beautiful? Because feeling deeply is such a gift. Even when it doesn’t feel good. Feeling deeply is to be very alive. I send some warm love to wrap you in, my dear one. You surely belong in this group of friends.

  7. Thanks, you guys – you are all very kind πŸ™‚

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