Weekly Bible Devotional
“What Is Saving Your Life Right Now? Wearing Skin”
May 3, 2020
Scripture for Sunday: John 1:1-5, 14
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Notes on the Text:
Two of my favorite commentaries on the Gospel of John are John, Jesus & The Renewal of Israel by Richard Horsley and Tom Thatcher and John’s Gospel in New Perspective by Richard J. Cassidy. These two books provide essential historical and sociopolitical backgrounds for our understanding of this Gospel. Often times this Gospel is spiritualized or used as a philosophical or theological document intended for personal salvation. Yet, the truth of the matter is that this Gospel and this passage are grounded in the daily struggles of our human life, in the sweat and blood of our bodily existence.
The Gospel of John presents a vision of the purpose of the ministry of Jesus as God’s presence in our human experience. The human experience into which the Word entered is not just a philosophical idea. Jesus came in a specific time and place in our world. He came into a fragile human body. He came during a very difficult time for the people of ancient Israel. They were living under the oppressive power of the Roman Empire. They had a stooge government that was only interested in serving themselves. Even the Temple became part of the oppressive system of Rome because it was the place where taxes were collected. In verse 14 we have a powerful image of how the Word of God in Jesus came into our experience. In the original language of the Gospel of John, Greek, it literally says that the Word set up his tent among and within us. The Word did not come as a force outside of our experience. The Word did not come as the mighty rulers of the world come. The Word came through the power of God’s creation and the power of human relationships. In verse 1 where it says, “In the beginning,” we have a strong reference to the story of creation in Genesis. This is the same beginning. In this passage, we are invited to remember the power of God’s creative energy of creation and to know that God is not separate from this creation. God is continuing to create and recreate us. This text is about God’s renewal and healing of creation through the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. In Jesus we know that God sets up God’s tent among and within us to bring us new life. Horsley and Thatcher write,
“Jesus works and generates a movement of renewal in all the regions of Israelite heritage… John…shows Jesus regularly moving back and forth between Galilee, Judea and Samaria, and the region across the Jordan, building a following among the villagers of each region. By having Jesus active in all the regions where Israelite villagers were located, John signals that the purpose of Jesus’ mission was a renewal of Israel and not simply a declaration of transcendent truths symbolized by miraculous signs.”
What John was telling his community, and eventually us, was that wherever there was suffering and pain, God was right there. God is present through the healing power of solidarity and friendship setting up camp in the middle of our most horrific experiences. The Word came into the world to bring light and love by setting up camp in our midst even as we face challenges like the coronavirus. The creative energy of God dwells among us through the power of speaking and listening, and through the power of being physically here on earth.
In the stories of creation in the book of Genesis, God affirms the goodness of creation and of our human bodies. In the Gospel of John, we see the coming of Jesus as an affirmation of the physical experience of our being.
It is hard to reflect positively on our embodied experience this week considering the current health crisis. Our bodies seem to be under attack right now! Some have even called this time a war time with the enemy being the coronavirus. We are more aware of our bodies than ever before, but mostly in fearful ways. This week we are invited by Barbara Brown Taylor to look at the practice of “wearing skin” as one of the ways God saves us. An important place to start is the story of the coming of Jesus as the presence of God into our human experience. God enters our experiences of human flesh and blood. God in fact uses our bodies to show us the power of love and vulnerability.
Part of the challenge of being in this human experience is the juxtaposition of the vulnerability and grace of our bodies. They are amazingly fragile and resilient at the same time. They help us do great things like works of art, building, teaching, writing, caring, and much more. Yet, at the same time, they are frail and do not last forever. They are physical reminders of our need for others, for the earth, and for God. They remind us that only love keeps us alive.
It is amazing to see God as being part of this experience of human frailty in the person of Jesus coming to the world as a human baby with physical needs and ultimately dying in agony and pain. His physical body became the vehicle for a great deal of love and for the transformation of hearts and minds. Jesus had so much power for healing, justice, wisdom, and compassion. At the same time, he was vulnerable and ended up being killed on a cross. His body being crucified became a symbol of God’s vulnerability and love. In Jesus’ physical experience we see the paradox of the glory and vulnerability of the human body.
And so today we affirm this physical experience of our lives. Being here on earth, as difficult and challenging as it may be, is also essential for our salvation. Having this physical experience with all its limitations helps us to be present to God in ways that are not possible in any other form. It teaches us one of the most difficult spiritual lessons of faith: Vulnerability is the only way to true love. Only when we learn to surrender and accept our vulnerability and finitude, are we truly able to be completely free.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes:
“The daily practice of incarnation – of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of the flesh – is to discover a pedagogy that is as old as the gospels. Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper? With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to think about together when he was gone. Instead, he gave them concrete things to do – specific ways of being together in their bodies – that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.”
Take time to reflect this week on the wisdom you are gaining about love and life during this hardship of the coronavirus. What are the spiritual lessons you are learning from your body and the body of the whole world?
Prayer by Macrina Wiederkehr:
Climbing down through the stars
to the stars on earth
The divine face meshing with the human
Heaven touching earth
We call it Incarnation!
You came as a star
led by a star
through the stars
to the stars
We never knew we were stars
until you came.
O God, we welcome you
We lovingly share our frail human flesh
and our starry planet with you
We wrap you in our flesh
We embrace you with joy
as you reach out your hands and your heart
to become one of us.
It was Mary who first wrapped you
in our human flesh
Her womb, the first altar
consecrated from all eternity
to be your first earthly home.
How holy is this earth!
Your glory streamed through our lives
the day you leaned from heaven
You came to help us see our glory
Following the star
we lean into your glory
In your light, we see the light
We never knew we were stars
until you came. Amen.