But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, 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. Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
“Rudeness Is on the Rise, You Got a Problem With That?” was the title of a New York Times opinion piece by author and columnist Jennifer Finney Boylan from this last December. In it the author laments the increase of rudeness and meanness asking, “How do we respond to a world under stress, a culture in which the guardrails of so-called civility are gone?” She points to the evidence of stress everywhere. She says:
In airports, and then in the skies, you can find airline passengers angry about wearing masks, angry about inspection of firearms in their carry-ons, seemingly angry about, well, everything. Close to home, things aren’t much better, and it comes from both sides of our ideologically divided society.Boylan, Jennifer F 2021, ‘Rudeness Is on the Rise. You Got a Problem With That?’, The New York Times, 4 December, accessed February 2022 online.
We all know this world. We live in it day in and day out. We see it on tv, hear it on the radio, and all our friends talk about it. The New York Times columnist sees the benefits of people being able to live their truth as she praises her ability to be openly queer and to live her truth while at the same time noting a difference between “a lack of shame and shamefulness.” She talks about people openly being mean to one another in the way they treat and talk about each other. We might take some pleasure in watching people get kicked off of planes or insurrectionists getting punished in their viking hats. But we might wonder along with the columnist “By indulging in the pleasure of someone else’s tears, am I the one showing incivility?” (Boylan , 2021) I believe Paul has something to say to us in the face of the growing rage and meanness taking over our lives and our world.
Paul’s closing remarks in this letter to the church in Corinth are tricky and confusing at the least. Honestly, they are ones that I have skimmed over before without trying to decipher them in the past. But as it was the lectionary text this week, I decided to try and learn some more. It seems that there was a history of reading Genesis as referring to two different Adams. Jewish interpreters would have philosophical discussions about two Adams, the physical and the spiritual. The first spiritual Adam was created in Genesis 1 where “God created humankind in their image.” (Gen. 1:27) and the second physical Adam was created in Genesis 2 where “God formed Adam from the dust of the ground…” (Gen 2:7). These interpretive moves fit in well with the dualism found in Greek philosophy that talked about physical and spiritual being opposites. Paul takes umbrage with these interpretations though and adds his own twist by saying that actually the physical and spiritual are not different but rather like a seed becoming a tree so too does the physical become the spiritual. The Cuban American theologian, Justo González, agrees with this line of thinking, saying “when the Bible contrasts the spiritual with its opposite, that other pole is not the ‘material’ but the ‘old’.” (Justo Gonzalez, Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 158.) Or the former. It connects to us becoming new creations and letting the old ways of doing things fade away.
Paul refocuses the Corinthian church on what we are becoming. Many scholars believe that the Corinthians thought they were already fully spiritual and did not need to engage with the physical world. Paul pushes back against this rhetoric and sets the order right. This world wants us to focus on death and dust. It keeps promoting life stealing paths for us through greed and pride. But Christ has come to show us a better way, a life giving way. We are transforming from seeds to trees, from physical to spiritual (not a separate dualism but a fuller living into the world of life!) We are physical and we are becoming spiritual. Right now we are a people of dust, of the earth, of the life stealing ways. But Christ wants us to follow him into becoming a people of heaven, of the life giving ways!
We see these seeds of becoming as our New York Times author tells a story at the end of her essay about the growing meanness in our world. Boylan, who is a trans woman, shares a story about going out to dinner with her mom and being treated rudely by a transphobic waiter. Boylan said she was used to being treated this way but was worried that it would really hurt her mom. Boylan was surprised to find her mom “unfazed.” I want to read from the end of that essay so Boylan can tell the story in her own words:
That waiter may not be living into the love and grace of the spiritual self that Christ calls us to, but that does not mean it is not possible. Grace is always calling us to die to the life stealing ways of the world and to give into the life giving love of heaven! So my question to us this morning is who are we becoming? Are we seeds on the shelf gathering dust and growing harder or are we planting ourselves and trusting in God’s grace and love to transform us into mighty oaks who provide shade and shelter, robust tomato plants who will feed the world deliciousness, or gorgeous flowers who exist to spread beauty and love? Paul wants us to know that we are seeds and we can choose to focus on our hard shell and deny life or we can plant ourselves in God’s love to become something wonderful. In this metaphor that Paul uses, heaven is not a different world somewhere out in space or another plane. Heaven is the future we can have if we trust in God’s grace for ourselves and our world and become planted people. In Paul’s metaphor, physical people and spiritual people all have bodies and live in this world. The seed and the trees live in the same world. The question for us is are we moving toward the heavenly, life giving future or toward the dusty, life stealing future?