This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Paul’s Ministry to the Gentiles
3This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for* Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—2for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you,3and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words,4a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ.5In former generations this mystery* was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:6that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power.8Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ,9and to make everyone see* what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in* God who created all things;10so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.11This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,12in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.*13I pray therefore that you* may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.
The letter to the Ephesians, scholars think, is probably not by Paul. There is widespread evidence of “letters in the name of” a well-known person being composed in the ancient world. Letters “in the spirit of Paul” are known in the bible where letters to Timothy, Titus and Hebrews are cerrtainly not by Paul and a number of others are of disputed authorship. We don’t have this custom and are inclined to be suspicious of it but there is no need to think of such letters as practicing deception: rather they bring the message of a saint to a new generation.
Ephesians is a shrewd, clear-sighted, if slightly wordy letter dealing with the global significance of the church community in the context of the Roman Empire whose earthly power is but a reflection of “cosmic powers” who strive to dominate the earth. We might now call these cross-cultural forces. What we name for example as globalisation would have been designated by the Pauline tradition as a cosmic power. The fact that the gospel and the christian community is meant for Gentiles as well as Jews was a especial discovery of St.Paul, one which not only infuenced his veiw of the church but also his views of right and wrong and of God. The writer of Ephesians understands the emergence of a multi-national church community, that is, of one new humanity in Christ, as the culmination of God’s work throughout history. As opposed to world empire this multinational community rested on God’s wisdom and the enthusiastic consent of men and women. In the competing nationalisms and trans-cultural influences of our day, the idea of voluntary universal community still has a persuasive power. In the face of militant forms of Islam which are committed to multinationalism by violence, it can exerecise a a vital critique.
The heart of the gospel is that Jesus Messiah died for all people without exception: he was broken on the wheels of world empire ( Roman) and bigoted particularism (Jewish), so that in God’s love a new community of equals could be born. The reference to Paul’s sufferings reminds the readers that the community life which they enjoy and the boldness with which they approach God, are founded on God’s invitation through his crucified son and his disciples. The powers that think they rule the world should pay attention to what is happening in these communities!
The Return of the Seventy
17 The seventy* returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’18He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’<!– 21 –>
21 At that same hour Jesus* rejoiced in the Holy Spirit* and said, ‘I thank* you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.*22All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
23 Then turning to the disciples, Jesus* said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!24For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’
Jesus sent the seventy to preach the kingdom and to heal, challenging the powers of evil. The seventy return marvelling at their success in liberating people from the powers which imprisoned their souls and bodies. Jesus jokes -but with serious appreciation-that their efforts have kicked Satan out of his place amongst the cosmic powers. The astonishing truth, that God, who is pure goodness, rules by a persusasion so powerful that even evil powers cannot say no to it, is a message acceptable only to people who are not afflicted with arrogance. The son of God is the one who incarnates this truth.
This passage goes well with the one from Ephesians as both celebrate the divine battle against “cosmic powers” for the liberation of humanity. Those who imagine that Christianity is somehow “soft” on evil are utterly mistaken: Jesus fought evil powers by exposing their weakness and restoring their victims to the shared life of God’s people.