“Shall we eat and drink in heaven?” I often ask this question in some of my theology classes. And the almost ready response is “No”. Souls and spirits no longer eat and drink. They just sing God’s praises. Di ba sinabi sa kanta: “Sa langit wala ang beer; that’s why we drink it here.”
I was asked by an old lady whose husband has long died, “Will I still recognize my husband in heaven?” “Of course, you do. That must be a happy reunion,” was my reply. She objected and insisted, “If we have become souls by then, we become indistinguishable from one another. So my husband won’t recognize me, and vice versa.” I was wondering from where such insistence came from.
Which part of us shall face God in his kingdom – the body or the soul? “Of course, the soul” is the reply uttered with some biblical support: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Mt. 16: 26).
But each and every Sunday, we recite in the Apostle’s Creed, the article of our faith, that which we basically profess to believe: “We believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”
If we listen to the Gospel today, the resurrected Jesus is a resurrected body. “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have… Have you anything to eat? They gave him a piece of baked fish; he tool it and ate it in front of them.”
And if we resurrect with Jesus, we will do the same.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is quite helpful to explain the resurrection. He had to insist to the Corinthian Christians: “If the dead were not raised, Christ was not raised. If Christ was not raised, your faith is worthless” (1 Cor. 15: 16-17). If we do not believe that Jesus resurrected bodily, Paul said, it is useless for us to call ourselves Christians. Consequently, if we do not believe in our own bodily resurrection, of what use is believing? We might as well go home and plant camote - as our elementary teacher would angrily tell us if we do not believe his instructions and come to class without doing our assignments.
But beyond merely resuscitating our bodies, God raised the whole person. Lazarus was resuscitated; he was not resurrected. He later on died; a resurrected body wont. The resurrection of the body is God’s action to the whole person. It is what the scripture calls “eternal life”.
St. Paul is helpful in this regard: “A natural body (soma psychikon) is sown and a spiritual body (soma pneumatikon) comes up” (1 Cor. 15: 44). It is “soma” (body) both in life and in the after life – the first is a natural body which is mortal; the second is a “soma” fully taken up by the Spirit (pneuma) which is eternal.
Jesus is a living body that one can see and recognize, really hug and touch, that can listen and tell stories. He can bless grill the fish, bless the meal, eat and drink. In eternal life, we are not disembodied souls “flying” around.
But his was also a totally different body – one that can pass through closed doors, disappear in an instant, etc. It is a body beyond the bodily, a being totally the same but totally different, a new reality which even St. Paul could not fully describe. As he writes: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2: 9).
What are the practical implications of these seemingly theoretical considerations?
In such contexts, we need to insist that faith in the resurrection also means to proclaim that God’s liberation and salvation is material, economic, political, cultural and bodily. Human beings always exist as bodies. We can never exist as detached souls, wandering ghosts or bodiless spirits. To be human is to be bodily here and hereafter. And if ever any human body is desecrated and violated, it is the duty for any Christian to fight in order restore such dignity.
On the other hand, in a world that gives premium to the material or the ‘bodily’, to money or power, to economic gain or political expediency, we need to insist on the value of the human beyond the cash nexus and selfish ambition. This is what Jesus strongly resisted in the temptation in the desert (Mt. 4: 1-11) – turning the stones to bread (economic power), jumping off the temple because the angels will come to protect him (exaggerated self-worth) or owning the city (political power).
A community of the resurrected Jesus needs to proclaim that a person is worth more than his and her physical appearance, socio-economic standing, or political assessment. The drug addict is not a hopeless and useless “animal” that can just be killed. Persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, refugees and the homeless – all of them poor – cannot just be excluded and deleted from our social, political and religious screens. They cannot be merely “thrown away” as “wastes of capital,” to borrow a phrase from a prominent sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman.
Humans have their value and worth beyond what how our present society assesses them. They have their rights and dignity as members of Jesus’ resurrected body.
Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M.
St. Vincent School of Theology