Christ Has No Body But Yours
It is sometimes very difficult for us to see the hand of God in things.
The sixteenth century mystic Theresa of Avila tells us the “Christ has no body but yours.” We might say to ourselves, “This is a remarkable thought.” And, of course, it is. Jesus walked among us, God incarnate, for some thirty three years. Those who knew him in the flesh, knew the tenor of his voice, the touch of his hands as intimately as we hear the voices, or feel the hands of our dearest friends and closest family. They, we might say, were the lucky ones.
But Theresa of Avila had a remarkable insight here in this thought. Jesus is no longer with us in his incarnate body. He left his Holy Spirit as our advocate and our support, but we do not know him in that physical reality that the apostles were so privileged to know and experience. Theresa recognizes, though, that Jesus’ presence can be truly real in our own times as well. Her insight was that Jesus is present in those who allow themselves to be used as his instruments for teaching, for healing, for forgiving and for serving others in the world today.
She recognizes in this remark that Jesus wants us to be his hands touching the wounded-ness of the world now, his voice giving it hope now, indeed his body, sacrificed for the love of others here and now.
The idea here, I think, is something we could call, the practice of presence. Jesus, in his life on earth, in his interactions with others, was always 100% present. His attention was total. He made himself totally available, without distraction, to every person in his presence. He was present with all of his being; mind, body and spirit.
How often can we say the same? Is it not truer to say that most of our interactions with others, even with those we love the most, are often distracted, that we are not always as present as we could be, or should be for the other? Our spouse, or our child might be saying something to us, hoping to get an answer to a question, or to tell us of something important, or exciting that happened to them, but maybe we are doing something related to our work, or watching a football game on TV, or reading a book, or engaged in doing something like cooking a meal, or writing a letter, and we nod distractedly, or grunt an “uh huh,” not really having heard the words, or the deeply held desires of the other. Maybe we even react in anger, because our “more important” focus was disturbed. The other goes away, hurt, or angry, feeling as though they, or their immediate concerns, were tossed aside as being unimportant.
When Jesus spoke to someone, no matter how great or how small, he was totally absorbed in that moment, with that person, listening to their needs, touching their brokenness, addressing them directly, looking them in the eyes. He was completely present. Each of the people he encountered was important enough for him to give his all to them at that moment. How incredible it must have been to them to know and to feel that!
Jesus wants us to be present to each other in this way. He wants to listen to the other, to touch and embrace the other through us. He wants us to be his ears, listening as intently as he would to the needs, the sorrows, the sufferings and the joys of the other. He wants to be completely present with his brothers and sisters through us and our whole being now. He wants us to be his body in the world today for others. He wants to walk with them, to touch their wounds, heal their diseases, to mop their brows, to wash their feet with tenderness and strength through our hands, here and now. He wants us to see others with our eyes as he sees them with his eyes. He wants us to love them as attentively as he did. He wants to be completely in their presence in and through us today.
We, of course, might say that this is impossible, that we are not Jesus. And, of course, this is true. But Jesus is not interested in us being perfect. He is pleased simply with our desire to be his imperfect instruments in the world, even if we are not perfect, even if we are a bit broken and tarnished. He is the Master worker. He can use us, even though we are weak, even if we are not the brightest penny in the lot, even if we are broken. All he asks is that we desire to be his presence in the world for others. Sometimes it is in the simplest acts of help, or of concentrated, attentive listening that great miracles can happen for others. It is not us who work the miracles, but Jesus, through us.
You see, it is not our greatness that he wants; it is our smallness, our weakness. It is not our pride that he is appealing to when he asks us to be his body in the world today, it is, rather, our humility. He knows our weaknesses, but he also knows our strengths, even if we may not. He knows how to use both for the good of others too. All he wants from us is our humble acquiescence, our simple ‘yes’ to his desire to be present to the world today in and through us. All else will be his doing.
Is this not a great thought? Think of how present Jesus would be to us if we agreed to be the instrument of his presence in the world for others. We would never be alone. We would always know the supporting hand of Jesus in our own selves. God is good. God is love. Let us then say our ‘yes’ to Jesus and allow this goodness and this love to be present in the world every day, through us.
Dan Doyle is a retired professor of English and Humanities. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology. To read more of Dan’s work, click here.