But this treasure we possess is in earthen vessels, to make it clear that its surpassing power comes from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way possible, but we are not crushed; we are full of doubts, but we never despair. We are persecuted, but never abandoned; we are struck down, but never destroyed. Continually we carry about in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that in our bodies the life of Jesus may also be revealed.
2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Paul was comfortable with the body, much more so than interpreters of Paul are comfortable in admitting. Paul compares communities of faith to the body, and often uses body analogies to clarify his ideas.
In this passage Paul speaks about the human body and its role in human spirituality. For Paul, it appears that the body is the central location for connecting with the Sacred. Putting this idea into context we need to say that it’s not the church or synagogue, the mosque or the temple, nor even the coven circle where the sacred abides – it is the body, the feeling, desiring, lumpy-bumpy human body. We do not enter sacred space, we are sacred space.
Paul’s understanding of the body is singularly humble – the body is like clay jars (“earthen vessels” as translated above). Proven in fire, strengthened in the crucible of flame and heat, clay jars are tough and hardy.
Yet, in this strength the jar remains exposed for one well placed hit and the jar shatters. This is true for us earthen queer vessels as well. We celebrate the insight of scripture that we carry in us the treasure of the Sacred. Like clay jars we are robust and hardy. Yet, also like clay jars we are vulnerable. One well aimed slur has the potential to shatter us.
Paul is very much aware of this. He writes not to the cream of society – the powerful and influential. Paul writes to the underbelly. He writes to those proven in the fire of an inflexible society. Paul writes to those maligned and smeared. He writes to those who have been told they are worthless, useless, and rubbish.
The scriptures celebrate persons of no-value as the Body Spiritual. It is the insignificant who prove of the greatest value and consequence for the Sacred. Like ordinary clay jars we will be handled roughly with indifference and “afflicted in every way possible.” But the Body Spiritual filled with the Sacred will not be crushed, will not give in to despair, will not be abandoned, and cannot be destroyed.
What Paul celebrated with those huddled believers in his time, we celebrate in the queer circles of our time. While death might be at work on us, life is at work in us. The Body Spiritual is you and me seeking and blessing life in the face of disparity and discrimination.