Thursday, April 10, 2008

Understanding the Gendered Jesus - Part 1; Graham Ward's Cities of God

The theological paradigm of gender that I am adopting is taken directly from the work of Graham Ward in his books Cities of God and Christ and Culture.[1] Ward’s chapter “The Displaced Body of Jesus Christ” in Cities of God outlines his particular understanding of the gendered Jesus. In this chapter Ward finds in the Gospels the instability of Jesus’ gender. From birth Jesus appears to issue from promise and not from copulation. Jesus comes from virgin flesh and the line of Joseph. In medical terms the male Jesus who is circumcised (we assume his biology is confirmed here) issues from the XX chromosomal femaleness of his mother. Through his life the body of Jesus exhibits unusual expressions. “This man can walk on water. This man can sweat blood. This man can bring life. This man can multiply material so that five thousand are fed from a few loaves and fish. This man can heal by touch; and not just heal but create – wine from water, the eyes of the man born blind, the ear of the Temple guard.”[2] The body of Jesus and the material in contact with him are destabilized and often undergoes transfigurations. “I am the way, the truth, the life, the Temple, the bread, the light, the vine, and the gate.”[3] Christ is gendered but not bound by a gender. In his body Jesus transcends gender taking bread, breaking it and saying this is my body. Ward also points to Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain saying that the ‘body’ of God’s glory was shown through Christ’s body. At the eucharist Christ breaks his body so that a new social embodiment might be revealed. “Bodies are not only transfigurable, they are transposable. In being transposable, while always being singularities and specificities, the body of Christ can cross boundaries, ethnic boundaries, gender boundaries, socio-economic boundaries for example. Christ’s body as bread is no longer Jesus as simply and biologically male.”[4]
At the crucifixion Jesus’ body is objectified, degendered, displaced as it is acted upon as meat and not human. But that is only in relation to the structural powers of law. Theologically the body is still displaced, distanced, but it is also gendered in the feminine as mother. The pierced side of Jesus issues blood and water birthing the church. In the eucharistic body we are joined through taking in Christ. In the crucified body we are dispelled from the side of Christ. Ward draws great significance for us as we are caught up in these movements. Ward is worth commenting in full here,

It is not simply that the physical body of Jesus is displaced in the Christian story, our bodies too participate in that displacement in and through the crucifixion. At the eucharist we receive and are acted upon; now having been brought into relation and facing the acknowledgement of the breaking of that relation readers recognize displacement of the body as part of Christian living. Our bodies too, sexually specific, will perform in ways which transgress the gendered boundaries of established codes. In the Christian tradition which follows, men will become mothers . . . women will become virile.[5]

At the resurrection Christ’s body is raised corporeal but exhibits itself as even more unstable then in his prior life. He is now able to disappear, hide his identity and walk through walls. This increased instability reinforces to us that Christ’s identity and perhaps the identity of bodies in general cannot be finally determined, they keep their mystery and are able to offer revelation from that place.[6] Ward writes that,

The appearance / disappearance structure of Christ’s resurrected body serves to emphasize the mediation of that body – its inability to be fully present, to be an object to be grasped, catalogued, atomized, comprehended. The appearance / disappearance serves as a focus for what has been evident throughout – the body as a mystery, as a materiality which can never fully reveal, must always conceal, something of the profundity of its existence.[7]

With the ascension Jesus’ body receives its final displacement. Ward is quick to point out though “that displacement is not the erasure but the expansion of the body.”[8] In many ways it is Paul who is our interpreter of the ascended body of Christ when he writes in Colossians that the Church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. “The final displacement of the gendered body of Jesus Christ, always aporetic and transgressing boundaries, is the multigendered body of the Church.”[9] As the crucifixion is turned onto its head as an event of birthing so to the ascending of Christ, Christ ‘leaving,’ is a creating of space for the divine-human relationship which Ward states clearing as re-establishing,

a new anthropology, a new way of being human as being en Christo as the church. . . . The body of Jesus Christ, the body of God, is permeable, transcorporeal, transpositional. Within it all other bodies are situated and given their significance. We are all permeable, transcorporeal, transpositional. ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ.’ . . . The body of Christ is a multigendered body.[10]

[1] Graham Ward, Cities of God (New York: Routledge, 2000); Christ and Culture (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005).

[2] Cities of God, 100.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 103.

[5] Ibid., 106.

[6] Ibid., 109.

[7] Ibid., 111.

[8] Ibid., 112.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 113.

No comments: