This passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians should catch every one of us up by the spiritual collar.
This passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians should catch every one of us up by the spiritual collar. ʺDo you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.ʺ
We have read and heard these words many times, and we love the sound and the meaning of them. They fill us with awe and wonder, yet they also make us shudder with the knowledge that we often do not treat our bodies as if this is really true. Paul was challenging the Corinthians (and us) to recognize that the manifold and varied temptations of the flesh that have been common in every age, including our own, were to now be understood as affronts to the Holy Spirit, who makes a dwelling place, a temple, within each of our bodies. He is teaching them, and us, that our bodies are not our own, that they are God’s pure and precious gift to us. That our bodies are sacred, and that a great price was paid for them. The price? Christ’s death on the cross.
This theology of the body is, of course, in direct contradiction with the thinking of our present culture, which has deified all manner of bodily pleasures. In sexual matters, our culture has cheapened not only the natural, God-created act of exclusive, generative, and unifying sexual intercourse, but it has also completely eroded the idea of the sacredness of one’s own body, and that of another. Today, as in Paul’s time, instead of an act of love, whose beauty and power is the result of freely giving oneself, body, mind, and soul, to the other for each other’s mutual good, sex has become simply a play thing, a toy to be used in all manner of ways, in order to satisfy self-serving, and momentary pleasures. Because of this latter attitude, sex has been detached from its natural purposes, which are, to create a deepening and powerful bond between the partners and to bring about new life. Indeed, it has cheapened the idea of love by defining love as nothing more or less than sex. Our time is no different than that of Paul’s time. Our struggle to understand and to live out of this understanding is no different than it was for the Corinthians. But in our struggles, our faith tells us that we will always have God’s grace to lean on.
To carry it one step further, if my body is sacred, because it was purchased at a great price, then so is that of the other, indeed, all others. Now, if we actually lived in accord with the wisdom of this passage, we would all be bowing to one another out of pure awe, and we would be moved to treat each other with infinite dignity, every time we encountered one another. We would treat one another justly, mercifully, lovingly. For we would recognize in each other, the presence of the Holy Spirit. If we did truly believe that we are all temples of the Holy Spirit, and honored each other with our very lives, then all of the horrors of sexual excess: sexual abuse of all kinds, rape, prostitution, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, etc., would no longer exist.
But we abuse our bodies in many other ways as well. Lust is not the only abuse of the body. Gluttonies of all kinds: addictions to food, to drink, to drugs, are all abuses of the temple as well. If we do not take care of the natural, healthy needs of our bodies, we are abusing them. We are not treating them with the respect that a temple of the Holy Spirit deserves. When we strike another in anger, when we use our voices to insult one another, or to spread calumnious stories about one another to do harm, we are abusing our bodies natural beauties as well. Would we do any of these things, if we really believed what Paul has told us here in the passage above?
Let us pray often, then, for the insight, the wisdom and the courage to treat our bodies, and those of all others, with the respect and the dignity that is due them, because our God, in his Holy Spirit, has chosen to dwell within them. God wishes nothing less than to share the awesome intimacy of his love with us, and through us for others. Let us, then, glorify God in our bodies.