This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church
Reading 1, Ephesians 1:1-10
1 Paul, by the will of God an apostle of Christ Jesus, to God’s holy people, faithful in Christ Jesus. 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.3 Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. 4 Thus he chose us in Christ before the world was made to be holy and faultless before him in love, 5 marking us out for himself beforehand, to be adopted sons, through Jesus Christ. Such was his purpose and good pleasure, 6 to the praise of the glory of his grace, his free gift to us in the Beloved, 7 in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins. Such is the richness of the grace 8 which he has showered on us in all wisdom and insight.
9 He has let us know the mystery of his purpose, according to his good pleasure which he determined beforehand in Christ, 10 for him to act upon when the times had run their course: that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth.
The consensus of bible scholars is that this letter is not by Paul, but by a later writer wearing his mantle, a tactic which was understood and approved in classical times. It’s a remarkable letter, however, with a vision of how the whole world may be united in Christ. As such it is the most “political” of New Testament writings with a concern for breaking down barriers between races; and a vision of the church as the prototype for an inclusive world order. It has a lot to teach us. It begins with a bold statement that the gift of Jesus Christ is the actualisation of God’s eternal purpose to unite his whole world and its peoples as one family. When we reflect that this letter was being composed by a representative of a small religious movement within the greatest “unifying force” the world had ever known, the Roman Empire, we can imagine how any Roman spy reading it would dismiss it as the pathetic ramblings of a religious idiot. It is in fact, an admirably sober presentation of the implications of Christian faith. There’s no point in talking about the Son of the One God if all we’re interested in is our local church or nation- a local deity would be good enough for that. Wherever it is, whether large or small, a Christian church is meant to be a model of God “bringing everything together” in Christ.
Gospel, Luke 11:47-54
47 ‘Alas for you because you build tombs for the prophets, the people your ancestors killed! 48 In this way you both witness to what your ancestors did and approve it; they did the killing, you do the building.
49 ‘And that is why the Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and apostles; some they will slaughter and persecute, 50 so that this generation will have to answer for every prophet’s blood that has been shed since the foundation of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the Temple.” Yes, I tell you, this generation will have to answer for it all.
52 ‘Alas for you lawyers who have taken away the key of knowledge! You have not gone in yourselves and have prevented others from going in who wanted to.’
53 When he left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began a furious attack on him and tried to force answers from him on innumerable questions, 54 lying in wait to catch him out in something he might say.
Jesus is speaking here as a prophet. It’s good to note that he identified himself with his predecessors in this way. He speaks of the apostles and prophets of the Christian mission, who will also be persecuted. Jesus’ sarcasm suggests that the Pharisees build tombs for the prophets because they prefer their prophets dead and unable to criticise. Abel is mentioned in the first book of the Bible and Zechariah in one of the last, in the Hebrew Bible, 2nd Chronicles, so the implication is that the whole history of the persecution of the righteous will fall on those who persecute Jesus and his disciples. Doubtless some decent Pharisee might have pointed out that it was unfair to condemn the innocent with the guilty, but prophetic denunciations always took the view that no-one who failed to stand up for God’s truth was truly innocent. These are ferocious words and certainly destroy any image of Jesus as gentle, meek and mild. Curiously, his ferocity is directed to respectable religious leaders rather than sinners.