This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
17 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds.18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart.19They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practise every kind of impurity.20That is not the way you learned Christ!21For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus.22You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,24and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another.26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,27and do not make room for the devil.28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,* as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,32and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.*
1. The writer’s prejudice that gentile ways are almost certainly immoral. Probably the writer (not St. Paul but a disciple) was a Jew and had been shocked by the licentiousness of Greek society. Some of this shock may have been simple prejudice- typical Greek sins were different from typical Jewish ones-but some may have been genuine. Jews were admired in the ancient world for their strict morality.
2. The writer’s insistence that Christian faith must make a real difference. If the new community of the church is to be a salvation for the world, then its members must live exemplary lives, with particular attention to personal purity and neighbourly concern. The precise injunctions, scholars tell us, are a shrewd mixture of Greek and Jewish wisdom, which like the teaching of Jesus, uses what people already know to introduce a new way of life.
Although this moral teaching was geared to a very different society, it seems to me that it’s good guidance for the church today. In Scotland certainly, the breakdown of a (somewhat hypocritical) puritan culture has left people without any strong guidelines for private or public behaviour. If church members follow the kind of moral wisdom outlined in this passage, they may provide an important service to society. The attractiveness of decent community life should never be underestimated.
The Commissioning of the Disciples
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’*
With the previous passage in mind, it’s relevant to point out that apart from baptising new believers, Jesus’ evangelical instruction to his disciples is to”make disciples of all nations teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The focus is on a life of obedience to Jesus’ commands. Now certainly this is not the whole Gospel, -Jesus’ promise to be with his disciples is surely part of it- but it is an aspect of the Christian message that has easily got lost from time to time in a welter of cheap salvations offered free of cost. Encompassed by the love of the father, rescued by the love of the son and empowered by the love of the holy spirit, the baptised person must obey the commands of Jesus Christ. At least, that’s what Matthew reports as the opinion of Jesus.