I’ve been thinking about John 1 and the image of the tent or tabernacle. The Greek verb that is translated as “dwelt” in “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” derives from the word for tent. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, the same word is used for tabernacle, the place in which God was present during the Hebrews’ sojourn in the wilderness.
It’s a rich image, evocative of the temporary nature of the flesh in which the Incarnate Word resided and also because of the resonance with the Hebrew Bible, the author of John’s gospel was making a revolutionary statement about God’s presence in the world.
I thought about the image of “tent” earlier last week as I reflected on Paul’s words in II Corinthians while preparing a funeral homily. Paul uses “tent” to refer the flesh:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling—
We tend not to think of flesh or body in these terms, perhaps because “tent” no longer has a ubiquitous presence in our culture. Tents are for camping, not for living, or dwelling.
Still, there is one way in which that image might take on new power in the contemporary context. One alternative translation is: “And he set up his tent in our midst.” Jim Keane, SJ, sees in this idea a parallel with the Occupy movements.