“Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45)
I read the gospel reading today as a lectio divina prayer. This is the sentence that really got my attention.
What comes before that sentence is a strong statement that Jesus makes to his disciples. Verse 39 says, “Look at my hands and my feet: see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” He further emphasized that he is appearing as physical by eating a piece of broiled fish in their presence. Jesus is showing the disciples that he is fully human; not appearing to them as a ghost. This must be an important message because we heard the parallel reading from John last week. Jesus appeared to his disciples and invited 1 Thomas to touch the wounds in his body to show them that it is he in human form.
So, if we accept that Jesus was fully human what does that mean? And, if we recall the reading today from the first letter of John: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God… we will be like him, for we will see him as he is…”
Jesus is human — like us. He is also the Son of God. Fully divine.
We are human — and we are the children of God — and, as John tells us, we will be like God.
First, we can look at what it means to be human. It means we are in physical bodies. Bodies of different colours, bodies of different gender identities, bodies of different shapes and sizes, bodies that get sick, bodies that age, bodies that die.
We have inherited early Christian teachings that separate body and ‘mind,’ telling us that the body is inferior; its needs are to be ignored, scorned or punished.
Writer and teacher of Christian spirituality Barbara Brown Taylor says: “…We would rather lock up our bodies rather than listen to what they have to say. Where Christians are concerned, this leaves us in the peculiar position of being followers of the Word Made Flesh who neglect our own flesh or — worse — who treat our bodies with shame and scorn.”
In her book An Alter in the World, she has a wonderful chapter called, The Practice of Wearing Skin. She reminds us that it is impossible to trust that God loves all of me, including my body, without also trusting that God loves all bodies everywhere. That if I increase the reverence that I show my body I must also increase the reverence that I show yours. It’s my body that connects me to all other people. She says, “Wearing my skin is not a solitary practice but one that brings me into communion with all these other embodied souls.”
If we doubt the importance of having a body in our spiritual lives there is always a reminder as soon as something goes wrong. There is nothing like a serious injury or diagnosis of illness to bring us to our knees before God. Questions arise like Why me? Why this? Why now? The answer in Zen Buddhism to these questions is basically, Why not?
We don’t ask ‘why me?’ when we are experiencing the pleasure of our bodies; when we accomplish a physical goal of fitness or performance, when we are enjoying wonderful food and drink, when we are basking in the love of family or good friends, when we’re struck with the beauty of nature, when we breathe in the scent of our infant child, when we find bliss in the union of our bodies during sex.
It is in our suffering that we turn to God. it is there, when we get beyond the fear that our suffering is personal, it is there that we begin to look for meaning and purpose, to look for God with us in our suffering.
As Brown Taylor says, “…our bodies remain God’s best way of getting to us.”
As God is relational as demonstrated in the holy trinity we as humans we are also relational. The skin I am wearing has to be in relation to the skin you are wearing. I’ll repeat Barbara’s inspiring words, “Wearing my skin is not a solitary practice but one that brings me into communion with all these other embodied souls.”
Jesus modelled a non-violent way of relating to others. He began his life with his parents. And when he began his ministry of teaching he did it in relationship with his disciples and his friends. His parables teach through stories of people and objects of nature — all living entities — in relationship to each other, to the earth and to God.
When our relationships are going smoothly, absent of conflict we often feel all is right with the world. When we experience the hurt and pain of rejection, judgement, shame, or we experience the shock of trauma, we feel like we are in exile. We develop defences against the pain by withdrawing, by erecting a shield around our hearts, or we avoid further pain by attacking, being the one with the power to hurt. We all experience these wounds and defences to one degree or another.
This brokenness also brings us to God. However, the call here is to healing. The relational wounds require healing if we are to be equipped for the journey toward this relational God. This is where the work of psychology plays its role. The work and purpose of psychology is the repair of connection; connection to our authentic selves, connection to others, to the living world. To “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) Our wounds interrupt that communion with “these other embodied souls” and we cannot bypass this work and expect to grow in our spiritual journey.
Jesus is fully human and is the Son of God, is divine.
Second, what does it mean for humans to be ‘like him’ as John suggests?
We are the children of God. John in his letter says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” And then Luke says “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures…”
These statements are speaking of consciousness. The Christian spiritual journey is about transformation. It is about changing ourselves through growing in consciousness. We have instruction from St. Paul in his letters. A few examples are: “…be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” (Romans 12:2); “…we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16); “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)
How do we put on “the mind of Christ?” How do we see as Jesus saw? How do we hold our hearts open to all of our experiences as Jesus did? How do we live in this imperfect world without judgement? How do we extend love, forgiveness and healing to everyone, including those who would hurt us, as Jesus did?
The short answer to those questions is practice. The Christian spiritual journey is not so much about right belief as it is about right practice. It is an inner journey taken through prayer, reflection, contemplation, ruthless self-examination and rigorous self-honesty.
The long answer takes a lifetime to unfold.
Jim Marion, in his book Putting on the Mind of Christ says, “…the only essential purpose of religion is to accelerate growth in consciousness.” Our scriptures try to put into words the ineffable truths about the nature of reality and God.
It is difficult to understand the message until we are able to read it with the same level of mind that wrote it. The gospel tells us that Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures. We, on the other hand, have to work at it and pray for the grace of having our minds opened.
Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (HarperOne: 2010)
Jim Marion, Putting on the Mind of Christ: The Inner Work of Christian Spirituality (Hampton Roads Publishing, 2000)