This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal readings for the day along with a headline from world news:
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love* towards all the saints, and for this reason16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.20God* put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
The letter to Ephesus may be by Paul, but its distinctive vocabulary is very different from his. Perhaps its written by a close disciple. I’ve spent some time working with the story of Paul and consider that Ephesus was his HQ for some years and the place of his imprisonment to which he refers in other letters. It is also associated with John the Apostle.
The letter is a sustained attempt to set out the political consequences of Christian faith. Starting from the miracle of Jewish/ Gentile community, it envisages the Christian Assembly as the prototype of God’s new society in which all humanity is one family under one God. In this extract the words “hope” “glorious inheritance among the saints” and “immeasurable greatness of his power” all point to this new and peaceful society brought about by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He is the One placed by God over all other powers in the universe, and united with him, the Christian Assembly which is his body, shares his power to break down barriers and establish peace in the world.
When you think that the person writing this is a leader of tiny groups of powerless people strung across the Roman Empire, professing an almost unknown religion, you can either admire his chutzpah or deprecate his lunacy. He/she is saying that God’s rule in the world is exercised by small communities of men and women and children called together by the story of Messiah Jesus, to demolish walls of racial and cultural suspicion, and become brothers and sisters under God. If the letter is read in this way it provides not only a vision but also an agenda for disciples of Jesus in all generations. Reading Ephesians is one thing; implementing it is another.
The Parable of the Ten Pounds
11 As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.12So he said, ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return.13He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds,* and said to them, “Do business with these until I come back.”14But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to rule over us.”15When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading.16The first came forward and said, “Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.”17He said to him, “Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.”18Then the second came, saying, “Lord, your pound has made five pounds.”19He said to him, “And you, rule over five cities.”20Then the other came, saying, “Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth,21for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.”22He said to him, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow?23Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.”24He said to the bystanders, “Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.”25(And they said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”)26“I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.27But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.” ’
This parable in Luke’s version is a warning both to the enemies and the servants of the ruler. Probably Luke is thinking of the ruler as the “Son of Man” who is Jesus as the head of the saints of God. The enemies oppose openly and suffer the consequences of their opposition but what about the servants? The story is bedevilled by its interpretation as a parable about the gifts given to human beings, that is, their” talents” a word derived from the Greek word now translated as pounds. It is not so much about these “natural” gifts as about one particular gift, the rich tradition of the Torah given to Israel, God’s servant. This tradition is to be put to work in the world, to be used creatively so that it develops and expands, rather than being preserved untouched and perfectly unchanged. Those who behave in that way show that they think of God as indeed like the harsh nobleman depicted in the story; whereas in Jesus’ message, God is not like that at all. The story is therefore a sharp criticism of fearful religion with its holy and unchangeable traditions; and an encouragement of bold faith which makes its tradition work in the world so that it grows and flourishes.
Much that is disabling in the life of Christian churches could be prevented if believers listened to the teaching of Jesus.