~ John 6.63
These are the words of Jesus and they follow a “difficult teaching.” The disciples feedback was not favorable. The message was not entertaining; the classroom of discipleship was not a fun place to be. This was a hard lesson to learn. They commented, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it (6.60)?” The words of Jesus made the disciples think that no one could pass the course, that no one would graduate. But, the words that followed might also prove difficult for many of us to accept given our investment in race: “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.”
I taught a class on baptism at Panera this past Saturday. Over soup, salad and sandwiches, I talked to a new convert about the new life, the fresh start she had been given. Along with talking about Jesus’ life, she talked to me about hers before making this life- changing decision. She shared about her family of origin, her plans for the future, her interest in all things black. Race. I had not prepared to say anything about it. It wasn’t apart of the notes that I had reviewed the hour before.
But, I understood her interest, her passion for the social identity and I told her as much. After pointing to the black and white color combination that I was wearing and placing it against my skin, it was obvious to her that we were not seeing that we were black or that they were white. So what were we really saying?
Then, I started talking about the funerals that I had recently officiated or served in. The body was there. They left it behind and they were gone. “They are in a better place,” I heard friends and family members say. Well, what of them is in a better place if their body is still here? And if the flesh is so important, then why didn’t they take it with them?
It is their breath that is taken. We speak of the evidence of death as the “last breath.” She or he took their last breath. Their spirit has left the earth, that which makes them animate and active is gone. It is the spirit, the breath that is to be valued and over which we have no control. The body is buried, left in the ground. Useless. This is why Jesus also says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10.28).
She would be experiencing a funeral of her own in just a few weeks. The flesh and its old nature will be of no use to her as a new creature in Jesus the Christ. Instead, she will be baptized in the Spirit and given a new and purpose- full life. I pray that in time and over time, she will learn that society’s categories, to include that of race, are meaningless and that she does not have to be found in any of those boxes in order for God to use her, that she is already unpacked, revealed because of the spirit that is shared and that is never useless.