Announcing not denouncing- Thursday, 22nd Week in ordinary time- St Paul’s letter to the Colossians 1:9-14
St Paul has come to the aid of his “fellow servant” Epaphras, to confirm his community in the faith that Epaphras had instructed them in. Epaphras was perhaps converted by Paul himself, during the apostle’s ministry in Ephesus. He seeks his spiritual mentor and co- worker’s help to answer a philosophical false teaching of human tradition, of which the intention was only to deceive the Christian community.
Central to this empty deceit were concerns regarding the elemental spirits of the universe. It held the belief in angels and demanded the observance of certain foods, festivals, new moons and Sabbath; most of all, it encouraged ascetical practices.
The letter to the Colossians makes it clear that such thoughts have now spread among Epaphras’ infantile community who have accepted Christ. An infantile community is always susceptible to a syncretic mix of ideas, influenced by their former religious practices of Judaism and Hellenism (Greek culture) into their new faith.
Colossae’s neighbouring cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis were also known to be centres of Phrygian mystery cults and these thoughts had now infected Colossae. The fascination surrounding these cults was the secrecy associated with the initiation and ritual practices which were not revealed to outsiders. I guess if you want to generate curiosity, hide it under a cloak; after all curiosity did kill the cat!
Paul now writes to confirm, not condemn the community. Paul does not feel the need to answer the many issues raised, but rather confirms the faith that has been handed down to them from Epaphras; a faith that in itself answers all doubts.
In this pericope, Paul tells the Colossians that he is praying for them, not because they have lost their faith, but in thankfulness for their faith which might be further strengthened with the knowledge of God’s will. It is God’s knowledge, mentioned twice in this pericope, that is more powerful than any other ‘earthy knowledge’ that is proposed by the opponents.
For Paul, this knowledge of God is clear as light and hence employs the very imagery of light in opposition to the darkness and secrecy of the gnostic knowledge that is falsely proposed as a better way. The Christian has already been rescued from darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Having accepted Christ, the Christian is now a ‘saint of light’ as opposed to those who believe in the ‘cloak and dagger philosophy,’ that they call faith. Having been redeemed by Christ, the Christian stands worthy of the Lord, pleasing to Him, ready to endure everything with patience.
Paul’s methodology is remarkable. He could have spoken to the Colossians from a position of power; even though ironically in chains, morally he was a powerhouse. Paul rather chooses to speak to them from a position of hope and encouragement; this from a man who did not suffer fools gladly. Perhaps it is a more mellow and balanced Paul that we see in this letter.
Paul was a brilliant man, having studied under the famous scholar Gamaliel, who was a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the early 1st century AD. His answers would most certainly have won him a summa cum laude in any university exam; yet it is on his knees that his first line of defence stems from; he prays, and having prayed he then speaks from his heart.
The letter to the Colossians is not so much a treatise to defeat the ‘enemy’ but a tract to strengthen the believer.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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