Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 4:25-5:2.
The New Testament reading from the Lectionary is taken from the Letter to the Ephesians. Most scholars date this letter between 80 and 100 A.D., as the Church is maturing and struggling to practice a Christian life in community. The writer (perhaps Paul or perhaps one of his disciples) is deeply concerned with the notion of relationships, and the idea that our relationships with each other mirror our relationships with God.
The lesson begins with the notion of truth, of “putting away falsehoods.” Deception inhibits any chance for real love, and dealing with each other honestly provides the foundation for our relationship with God. The call to the Christian life is more than a call to avoid lying or manipulation; God calls us to live our lives transparently.
Ephesians offers a unique theology behind this call to the truth–not simply that deception makes God angry or will keep us out of heaven. Rather, Christ calls us into the truth because our lives are intertwined, because we are each other’s limbs. Deception infects the entire body, of which we are a part. By setting aside falsehood and deception, therefore, we avoid self-mutilation, the destruction of the body of which we are a constituent part.
Ephesians then warns us against anger, and against allowing it to fester. The text cautions us against letting the sun go down on our anger because allowing resentment to build up makes “room for the devil.” In my family, we used to joke about Irish Alzheimer’s: that’s where you forget everything except the grudges. Ephesians cautions us to work out our difficulties with our brothers and sisters quickly, before the infection of rage and resentment begins to spread.
The writer of Ephesians cautions us about our speech, warning us to avoid quarreling and slander. The language of encouragement should provide the fundamental grammar of Christians. Rather than gossip, criticism or idle speech, we should immerse ourselves in the vocabulary of comfort and inspiration. We must all become wildly proficient in the language of blessing.
Ephesians then directs us: “be kind to another.” There’s nothing new in this message; Jesus gave the same direction regularly. For the Christian, compassion and forgiveness are the fundamental currency of our economy. Grace must become our lingua franca: the basis of all our relationships. The text calls us to imitate God’s love in our dealings with each other. We are called into a kind of profligate, extravagant love in Christ. As the Dalai Lama has said: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
The Letter to the Ephesians teaches us about the profound correlation between this new relationship the early Church had discovered with Christ and the everyday, concrete relationships in the world. It teaches that we can never divorce the our spiritual lives from our workaday associations in our families and communities. Authentic Christian spirituality is never simply ethereal or private: we live it out every single day, with every person we meet and with every word we speak.
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis