September 17, 2022
by Eileen Burke-Sullivan
Creighton University's Division of Mission and Ministry
click here for photo and information about the writer

Saturday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 135

1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-49
Psalm 56:10C-12, 13-14
Luke 8:4-15

Praying Ordinary Time

An Invitation to Make the Online Retreat

Praying in Times of Crisis

We Christians have a hard time with this notion of life after death.  We want to believe it, but it is hard to imagine.  Those who suffer illness or physical disability are the first to ask: “Do I have to look like this through all eternity?”  Those of us of a certain age who can look back on years of strength and flexibility feel the ravages of time and long for a body that is not so confining or challenging, and yes, many of us don’t really believe we are attractive as we are we secretly hope that we will be beautiful or graceful or thin or . . .  well, you have heard the longing – perhaps even felt it.  I certainly have.

Apparently, the Corinthian Church drove Paul crazy with similar questions and concerns because he is quite sharp in the passage we have for today’s first reading.  He even calls them fools for such questions that bespeak a lack of graced imagination.

So how does he stir up the imagination about a bodily life in the Kingdom? He insists on a spiritual body but he uses very earthy analogies.  A seed, after all is fully material – and yet Paul challenges us to realize that seeds bear within them the capacity to beget life that the seed – if it had an imagination – could hardly conceive of. 

It is late summer moving into autumn here in the northern hemisphere and my great oak tree in the back yard is providing winter provender for all kinds of creatures, but also providing the future for its own kind.  An acorn fell on me several days ago, while I watered my pots of flowers, and I sat down and looked at the relatively small universe of the next generation of oak trees.  The seed does not in any way (except possibly the color) resemble any part of the tree that dropped it on me.  It does have a roughly “feathered” little cap that quickly becomes stiff and lifeless after being separated from the sap of life that ran through it – and this “cap” comes off to reveal a relatively large seed – not unlike that of other fruits and nuts – that has a smooth coat.  Out of that seed a sapling will emerge if the seed falls into the ground and dies, that is yields up its various life forces of food, moisture and DNA.  I am not a biologist – so I don’t specialize in the circle of life scientifically, but all of us “specialize” in the circle of life lived if we pay attention to ourselves, our world (even just the back yard) a child, a pet, any creature that participates in the circle of living creation. 

The rest of creation is given to the living creation to nurture its life and energy, so the sun pours itself out to give warmth and light, rock and soil give up minerals and other nutrients to sustain or develop life structures.  We can say – as theologians have- that all of the created order is kenotic or practices kenosis, a Greek word that means pouring itself out that others may have what they need.  The term is most often used to describe Jesus’ death on the cross, the full kenosis of human and divine life that nurtures all creation for all time. Kenosis is not something forced from us, but an act we undertake, generously, so that others may have the fullness of life.  Humans engage in genuine kenosis only out of love and freedom.  The rest of creation practices it because it is its nature which mirrors Divine existence.

But only rational beings with the freedom to withhold themselves have the capacity to be genuinely kenotic – to give of ourselves as God does, freely.

So we, as the seed for the future generations of life will grow into our own existence with God – a bodily self that does not resemble the seed any more than the grain resembles the whole wheat plant blowing in the wind, or the oak tree does not resemble in its rough bark, great height,  widely extended branches and intricate roots the “body” of the acorn.  The acorn is but an embodied promise of the future life of its kind – if it gives itself away to sun, water, soil and patient endurance of years of storms alternating with benevolent breezes.

In the Gospel, Jesus warns that seed must die in a hospitable place – and we who are rational seeds, can look around us and realize what brings us to grace and what locks us in hatred and unfreedom.  For us the good soil is the locus for dying because the good soil will draw out our true life as the husk of ourselves dry up and return to nature.  The good soil is obviously the place of companionship with creation that mutually gives itself to others, it is the place away from weeds of various idolatries that choke and kill by refusing the truth of real life.  It is the place where we can thrive by giving away our gifts of self and have them received with welcome. 

Just as all “natural matter” helps make good ground, we must seek the truth of our human condition and dwell therein – not trying to be gods for ourselves.  Then we will discover the embodiment of beauty and glory that dwells within us. 

I will walk in the presence of God, in the light of the living.” Ps 56.

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