Fifth Sunday after Epiphany C
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
By Wes Howard Brook and Sue Furguson Johnson
This week’s readings reveal life springing forth from sky, sea and soil: seraphim speak to Isaiah, fish are netted by Simon Peter, and images of fleshy seeds of resurrection flow from Paul’s mouth (in the section of 1 Cor 15 that follows the lectionary passage). And if we listen a bit more closely, we can hear the usual lines that distinguish one creature from another blur and cross: Jesus promises that Simon will fish for people, while, for Paul, humans bloom and fruit like flowering trees. What might these criss-crossing images teach us about the intersectionality among living beings, in this realm and in the realm beyond the veil?
Before we address that question, let’s consider a few more examples of the Bible’s way of ignoring the categories our human minds so quickly impose on creation, in which we each being in a unique box called a “species” within the larger hierarchy of the animal or plant “kingdom.” Consider a few examples from the many we could list.
First, some nonhumans doing human things:
Snakes (Genesis 3) and donkeys (Numbers 22) speak like humans
Human blood cries out from the ground (Gen 4)
Mountains and hills listen to trial testimony (Micah 6) and burst into celebratory singing (Isa 55)
Trees (Isa 55) and floods (Psalm 98) clap their hands
A star follows to the birthplace of a new king (Matt 2)
Stones can become “children of Abraham” (Luke 3)
And then there are humans who are also animals:
Jesus sends disciples out among wolves and they are to be like sheep and doves (Matt 10)
Herod is a fox (Luke 13)
Imperial kings are ravenous beasts (Daniel 7)
Jesus is a lamb (John 1; Rev 5, 6, etc.)
And also humans who are like plants:
Bearing fruit (Matt 7, Luke 3)
Being branches of a vine (John 15)
Being seeds (Matt 13)
What we discover here is that biblical narrative and poetry, like so many indigenous stories, recognize that life flows across, over and through the many dividing walls our minds place on creation’s diversity. In other words, it is the Western, Platonic mind that seeks “categories” into which each element of creation “belongs” and, by implication, must remain. But the Bible was not written by Platonists. Rather than a hierarchical “great chain of being” in which God is on top and humans just below God and above everything else, the Bible (for the most part) offers images of species blurring and transforming into each other.
Every child embraces such blurring with delight and without question. Consider, for example, ordinary kids’ stories of dogs and cats driving cars, going to school, or wearing human clothes. Kids of all ages take for granted smart and sensitive spiders who befriend pigs in Charlotte’s Web, or more dastardly and conniving beasts in Animal Farm. Classic fairy tales feature wolves that dress in grandma’s clothing. In a more fantastic realm, we embrace the hybridized creatures of Narnia and Middle Earth, taken as “normal” by nearly every reader.
These species-transgressive stories help us humans to hear our deep kinship with our fellow beings, whom we otherwise tend to dismiss as inherently “other.” And from a biblical perspective, they go a step further: they reveal that nonhuman creation revels in worship of the Creator, as in this exuberant scene from Revelation:
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped. (Rev 5.11-14)
So, perhaps this week’s readings collectively call us not only to pay attention to and to learn from our fellow earth-creatures, but to become like them in their trust and joy in the Creator’s provision (Matt 6.26-30), flying, walking and swimming together in the presence of God (cf. Gen 3.8).
What species might God be calling you to be more like in your journey? May we all find ourselves this week joyously intertwined amid God’s revelatory, crazy, kaleidoscopic creation!
Sue Ferguson Johnson and Wes Howard-Brook collaborate in the ministry, Abide in Me, from their home in the Issaquah Creek Watershed in Western Washington. Sue is a spiritual director of individuals and couples and Wes teaches theology at Seattle University. Together, they seek to integrate the inner and outer journeys with the Creator.
Wild Lectionary, a weekly reflection on land, creation and environmental justice themes in the texts of the revised common lectionary, is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territories.
 We acknowledge that that minds behind the so-called “Priestly” writings of the torah felt a strong need to develop categories of “clean” and “unclean” species, a scheme of separation that Jesus casts aside (Mark 7.19).