Tag Archives: St. Paul

Living In Love

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.

Shabbat Shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Christian Freedom

 

 

 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Gal. 5:13-15.

Today’s reading from the Daily Office offers us a glimpse of St. Paul’s notion of Christian freedom.  Earlier in the passage, Paul says that Christ has set us free for freedom.  Gal. 5:1.  Paul notes that Christ has freed us, not only from the yoke of the Law, but also from sin itself. 

Generally, we think of being freed from some sort of difficulty (financial debt, addiction, or a broken heart).  Jesus has not only freed us from the law, He has freed us for a new relationship with the Father.  Thus, St. Paul tells us our new freedom does not liberate us for self-gratification.  If that were so, we would simply trade one set of chains for another.

St. Paul’s next move is somewhat surprising and offers us one of those paradoxes that we so often encounter in Christianity (a virgin birth, Jesus as fully divine and fully human, loving our enemies, etc.).  Paul tells us that Christ brought us liberty so that we might become “slaves to one another.”  We might well ask, “What kind of freedom is that?”   

St. Paul argues that the contrary view of freedom (absolute liberty devoted to selfish goals)  leads to an “eat or be eaten” way of living.  He says, “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”  His language here conjures up images of wild animals tearing each other apart.  (I’ve certainly been present at dinner parties which would suggest that Paul was right.)  We have too often demonstrated the capacity for greed, humiliation, violence and making a way for ourselves on the backs of others.  Paul is right; we consume each other.

 St. Paul offers us another way: the Way of the Cross.  He tells us “the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”  Gal. 5: 6. Paul believes this new relationship with God compels us toward a life of charity and compassion. This new relationship with Christ draws us into a life of serving each other.  There, we will encounter the freedom to be the sort of people God intended us to be.  Stated another way, Jesus freed us to become the Church, His mystical body.  Beyond compliance with a set of rules and beyond the “righteousness trap”, St. Paul calls us to a life of devoted service to God’s children. 

That life of devotion, of self-denying love, constitutes the essence of the Christian life.  Saint Paul does not see a life in community, spent in the service of God’s children, as the best sort of Christian life.  Rather, he sees it as the only life than can authentically be called “Christian.”

God watch over thee and me,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis