Hostile Flesh

(Lent 5A    Romans 8:6-11)

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:6-8)

My mind has been on my flesh ever since I made up my mind to go see the doctor last summer and have a long overdue "annual" physical. I had been focused on the inner life, or so I thought, certainly focused on my children and my church, not at all focused on this particular body of Christ's. I want to think I understand what Paul was getting at, that his reference to flesh meant something particular in his life or with regard to the community in Rome. I know he wrote thinking that time would soon end with the return of Christ.

I'm thinking about my body, yes, and the body that is the Earth, and the similarity between my bad use of my personal resources and humanity's bad use of the home God made for all of us. Paul's reasoning, or perhaps a certain brand of interpretation of Paul's reasoning, separates us from being earthed, enfleshed, incarnate, asks us to be what we are not and cannot be.

Yes, I have some problems with Paul, or with our tradition's understanding of him.

What was troubling him? Drinking, masturbation, fornication? Gluttony?

I've been a glutton, a careless eater of all things, hostile to my own flesh and to the world, feeding an angry furnace with the intention of quieting it instead.

Yes, thinking only of the carnal, the material, can get in the way of a relationship with God. But so can a lot of other things. None of them, however, can separate us from the love of God, really. Paul said so. And I believe it.

So, I work with my flesh, trying to wake up as much as possible to the reality of who I am and who God calls me to be. The other passages this week ask us to live, to breathe, to become unbound. They do not ask us to cut off our flesh but to animate it.

Let us, then, be not hostile to the human bodies we inhabit. Let us love them. Let us love them. God does. I believe that, too.

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