Reuniting the Material and the Spiritual, Part 2

Reuniting the Material and the Spiritual, Part 2 May 22, 2024


As we continue our contemplation of reuniting the material and spiritual, again, in our reading this week, we also see tensions that existed between the proto-gnostic, Johannine community and the Pharisees in Judaism at that time.

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(Read this series from its beginning here.)

“Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”

The division pointed to here between the Johannine community and the Pharisees was not unique. Pharisees would have opposed Jewish forms of Gnosticism, just as much they opposed Christian ones.

In harmony with the Gnostics’ definition of salvation as having secret knowledge, Nicodemus stands for someone on the inside of the Pharisees’ community who secretly followed the Johannine Jesus. Nicodemus is mentioned three times in John’s gospel and each time he’s represented as a covert Jesus follower:

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” (John 7:50-52)

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. (John 19:38-41)

The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in this week’s reading centers around distinguishing between what is born of the flesh and what is born of the spirit. This division between the flesh and the spirit, between the physical, material world and the spiritual has born seriously destructive fruit throughout Christianity.

Recently I have been reminded of what Fredrick Douglass wrote about the fruit of these kinds of divisions. We’ll begin part 3 with reading Douglass’ critique, next.

(Read Part 3)


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About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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