A deaf man with a speech impediment is brought to Jesus. Characteristically, the man’s friends beg Jesus to heal Him. Little did they know that there was no need for an appeal. They didn’t know who they were dealing with. This earthy, sweaty Lord of dirt, this sensuous God-in-flesh, never needed to be cajoled into touching other human beings. Taking the man away in private, where intimacy is safe and bodily care is appropriate, the Creator touches the Creation. He is alternately tender and invasive: He puts his fingers into his ears. He spits. He touches the man tongue. Looking up to heaven with human saliva on his fingertips, he lets out a sigh. “Ephphatha,” he says: “be opened.” In the words of one of Stanley Hauerwas’ prayers, “Lustily you love us, Mary-born son of God.”
A woman comes to Jesus whose issue of blood has been a source of shame for 12 years. The bleeding will not stop. In this case, the story doesn’t highlight the obsessive addiction to human touch seen in the ministry of Jesus, but the longing to touch by the woman. So convinced of the power resident in the body of Jesus to flow into her own body, she touches the fabric of his robe. Touching coarse fabric that Jesus sweated in, dense with the odor of God Himself, would be enough.
This gospel is not some abstract thing called “spirituality.” This gospel is not about a detached, floating thing called a soul in some dank holding pen called a body. This gospel is not an escapist fantasy for people who hope their spirits will someday exit the planet on a kind of cosmic spaceship like a sanctified David Bowie song.
This gospel is a protest against the body-defying, earth-denying spirituality that threatens to swallow up Christianity as it exists in the 21st century. This is the resistance against religion that is less substantial than the taste of crusty bread and sweet wine. It’s in favor of skin, in favor of laughter, in favor of music, in favor of sweat. It’s in favor of disrobing but in protest to pornography. It’s in favor of touch but in protest to being handled. It’s in favor of the soul but in protest to its dismemberment from the body.
It is as greasy as the touch of a finger bathed in anointing oil on the t-zone of a teenager’s face. It’s as intrusive as the hands of a brother washing the dirt off your feet as you sit in awkward silence. It is as mysterious as the slow descent of a naked body into an ancient baptismal pool at midnight, with prayers and hymns swirling all around. It is as delightful and uneventful as a meal shared with a stranger.
In Jesus Christ, we behold the bodily gospel of our sensuous God.
“We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”