This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
15 YEAR OLD MUSLIM BOY DIES TACKLING SUICIDE BOMBER TO PROTECT FRIENDS
Good News Translation (GNT)
8 See to it, then, that no one enslaves you by means of the worthless deceit of human wisdom, which comes from the teachings handed down by human beings and from the ruling spirits of the universe, and not from Christ. 9 For the full content of divine nature lives in Christ, in his humanity, 10 and you have been given full life in union with him. He is supreme over every spiritual ruler and authority.
11 In union with Christ you were circumcised, not with the circumcision that is made by human beings, but with the circumcision made by Christ, which consists of being freed from the power of this sinful self. 12 For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13 You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; 14 he canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross. 15 And on that cross Christ freed himself from the power of the spiritual rulers and authorities;[a] he made a public spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his victory procession.
16 So let no one make rules about what you eat or drink or about holy days or the New Moon Festival or the Sabbath. 17 All such things are only a shadow of things in the future; the reality is Christ. 18 Do not allow yourselves to be condemned by anyone who claims to be superior because of special visions and who insists on false humility and the worship of angels. For no reason at all, such people are all puffed up by their human way of thinking 19 and have stopped holding on to Christ, who is the head of the body. Under Christ’s control the whole body is nourished and held together by its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God wants it to grow.
Dying and Living with Christ
20 You have died with Christ and are set free from the ruling spirits of the universe. Why, then, do you live as though you belonged to this world? Why do you obey such rules as 21 “Don’t handle this,” “Don’t taste that,” “Don’t touch the other”? 22 All these refer to things which become useless once they are used; they are only human rules and teachings. 23 Of course such rules appear to be based on wisdom in their forced worship of angels, and false humility, and severe treatment of the body; but they have no real value in controlling physical passions.
This is a tricky passage to translate as a glance at the different versions will show. There are a number of reasons for this:
1. Paul is using the idea of male circumcision to make a point about the difference between the Jewish Religious Law (Torah) and the Good News of Jesus. This is awkward to translate into modern English especially for cultures where women are equal with men. Paul’s point is that that a (merely) physical ceremony was the mark of the Mosaic covenant whereas a spiritual “cutting off” of the sinful self is a mark of the Gospel.
2. This is linked to the way Paul uses the words “flesh” and “spirit”. Flesh means our biological self, the dust of which Adam was made and to which he will return. Spirit is the breath of God which makes Adam a living soul. To live “according to the flesh” means closing ourselves to God; whereas “living according to the spirit” means openness to God. The power of the “flesh” can turn a good thing like the Jewish Torah into something sinful, namely an arrogant assertion of self-righteousness to the exclusion of God.
3. Paul reveals in this passage a profound view of the death of Jesus Messiah on the cross. He was put on the cross by the judgement of the Jewish Law. Paul says that when Jesus went to the cross he took with him not only the judgement on himself, but also the negative judgements of the Law on all human beings. In fact the Law nailed him the cross but Paul says no, Jesus Messiah was active, nailing the law, its judgements and our moral negative equity to the cross, thus revealing its crucifying and death-dealing nature. His resurrection therefore displayed his victory over the law and over all worldly powers, who are now led powerless behind him, like defeated soldiers in a Roman triumph.
If this sounds a very complicated piece of mythology we should think of it rather as a condensed story of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection-an abbreviated Gospel.Then we can see that for example Mark’s stories of Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath, his forgiveness of sin, his controversies with the religious authorities, could be described in the words, “nailing the Law to the cross” for of course the four Gospels insist on the close connection between Jesus’ crucifixion and his controversies over the Torah.
4. Paul says that the believers receive the benefits of Jesus’ life, death and rising again, by identifying themselves with surrender of his life. The sign and seal of the identification is baptism in which the old self is drowned and the new self united with the risen Christ. This is the “new creation” of which he writes in 2 Corinthians chapter 5. Again we might ask if all this isn’t pure mythology. Any serious consideration however, will see that people who learn to surrender their biological selves to the tasks of love, in word and action, are in sober fact dying to one kind of life and rising to another, whatever their faith.
5. The ruling spirits of the universe are for Paul religious, cultural and political powers which can control the lives of those who live according to the flesh, that is, who have closed themselves to God. Some of these pull the person downwards into greed, promiscuity, and violence, wile others raise them up into spurious ethical and religious practices which make a person arrogant before God. The whole of the “religious impulse” to find God and secure God’s favour is seen by Paul in this light. God has come in Messiah Jesus and found us; all we have to do is accept this and live in gratitude to God and love with our fellow human beings, united with Jesus, hoping for the day when we’ll be set free from mere biological life and given “the glorious freedom of God’s children.”
6. In verse 9 Paul uses the Greek term “pleroma” meaning fullness. We know that in later Gnostic thought this word was used to mean a divine dimension into which initiates might pass. It may be that Paul had come across its use by “new-age” thinkers of his time. He wants his readers to be sure that any “fullness of divine nature” is to be found in Jesus Messiah; and that their unglamorous faith gives them access to “full life.”