Fr Brian Gleeson CP today presents part 4 of his lengthy and comprehensive analysis of some of the best contemporary analysis of the meaning of the Resurrection by today's theologians. Today the focus is on the testimony of St Paul to the Resurrection.
THE TESTIMONY OF PAUL
The resurrection as an experience of Jesus as exalted Lord
Paul actually seems just as much interested in the raising or exaltation of Jesus to a position of power as the living Lord of the world as he is in the resurrection as the transformation of the body of Jesus. [See e.g. Rom 10:9; 14:9; 1 Cor 12:3; 16:22; Phil 2:8-11]. This is a position from which the risen Jesus can attract new converts to the Christian way of life, and a position from which he can infuse new spirit into the lives of those who are already his followers. So true is this for Paul personally that he can even say: 'I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.' [Gal 2:19-20]
The resurrection as an experience of Jesus as 'a life-giving Spirit' (1 Cor 15:45)
Another key text in the matter is 1 Cor 15:45 in which Paul says that Jesus (whom he calls 'the last Adam') 'has become a life-giving spirit' [1 Cor 15:45]. A related text of Paul is 2 Cor 3:17-18, in which he says: 'Now the Lord is the Spirit …' Paul can say this because by the time he is writing his letters, many thousands of people have already experienced the risen One as the powerful Spirit of God touching and changing their lives. They have personally benefited from the healing and transforming presence of the Spirit of the risen Jesus, and have been demonstrating this by their attitudes, their words, their actions, and their whole life-style. So Michael Fallon observes:
Throughout the New Testament the presence and influence of the risen Jesus is spoken of in terms of the Spirit of God. The Spirit (breath) is God himself as life-giver. The Spirit that was present in the community, giving it life, was the Spirit of God and Jesus; it was Jesus' Spirit, the Spirit of love that united him to his Father. In other words, the community of Jesus' disciples found themselves living Jesus' life, sharing his mission, experiencing his prayer and his power.
Bestowing the Spirit's gifts
To appreciate all this we need to take into account the many references to the influence of the Spirit of Jesus which are scattered throughout Paul's writings. Piecing together a composite picture, a mosaic, we note that Paul teaches that it is the Spirit of the risen Jesus which is the source of our faith. It is the Spirit of the risen Jesus which communicates those practical gifts of wisdom, prophecy (i.e. the ability to speak for God to the current human situation), and healing [1 Cor 12-14]. It is the Spirit of Jesus which frees persons from the destructive forces of evil, meaninglessness, and futility. It is the Spirit of Jesus which empowers them to become ever more loving people, imitating Jesus in his self-giving and self-sacrificing ways. It is the Spirit of Jesus which enables them to live lives which are pleasing and acceptable to God, and which give God praise and glory.
A key text (Galatians 5:16-25)
A key text summarizing the powerful, transforming influence of the Spirit of the risen Jesus on human beings is Galatians 5:16-25:
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. But what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Overcoming even death through the Spirit
Finally, Paul declares that it is the Spirit of Jesus which empowers us to overcome even what he calls 'the last enemy to be destroyed' [1 Cor 15:26], i.e. the death we must all one day die. Paul comments on the hope that the Spirit gives concerning ultimate human destiny: 'If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have died.' [1 Cor 15:19-20]
The struggle to understand
Paul is declaring, then, that resurrection from the death of the body is the ultimate destiny of all God's people at the end of the last days. He is in no doubt whatsoever, that this is what happens to good people, people who are led by the Spirit of Jesus. But Paul also knows how difficult, how almost impossible it is, to imagine, to depict, to understand and to grasp HOW this can happen. So from verses 35 to 53 of 1 Corinthians 15, he grapples and struggles with the question: 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come [alive]?' [v.35]. To try to say something meaningful about what happens, he compares the death of the body to a seed that disintegrates in the ground in order to give new life. He says:
What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness. It is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. [1 Cor 15:42-44]
It's important to note that when Paul speaks of the future resurrection body as a 'spiritual body', he does not mean, as has often been suggested, a 'nonphysical' body'. We are meant 'to take both phrases to refer to an actual physical body, animated by 'soul' on the one hand and 'spirit' – clearly God's spirit – on the other'. The present body, Paul is saying, is 'a [physical] body animated by "soul"'; the future body is 'a transformed [physical] body animated by God's Spirit'.
The resurrection as
On the other hand, in his letters as a whole, Paul also has much to say about the resurrection as an act of God raising Jesus from the dead, as something therefore which happened to Jesus personally after his crucifixion. But what Paul says about the physical resurrection of Jesus is coupled with his emphasis on the experience of the life and power of his risen person in the lives of his followers. Nevertheless, the personal physical resurrection of Jesus is presupposed. For the sake of a more complete picture therefore, something more must be said from the testimony of the scriptures about the personal resurrection of Jesus and about Jesus in his risen state [and that's what we'll explore in the last part of this commentary next week].
Brian Gleeson CP — This commentary was first published with the title of 'The Resurrection of Jesus and the Jesus Movement' in the Australasian Catholic Record (January 2009). Submitted to Catholica on 05 Nov 2011.
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©2003-11Dr Brian Gleeson CP