Christ Alone- Saturday, 22nd week in ordinary time – St Paul’s letter to the Colossians 1:21-23
It was Epaphras who brought the ‘Good News’ of Jesus Christ to the Colossians, and not Paul. We know, from the letter to Philemon, that this new Church met in the home of Philemon, his wife Apphia and their son Archippus. It is from this home that a slave by the name of Onesimus had run away and come to serve Paul who was under house arrest, necessitating the letter of Paul to Philemon, asking him to take Onesimus back as a brother, not merely a slave (Colossians 4:9, Philemon 8-21).
This community of Colossae is now under threat. Heretical (false) teaching had crept in no sooner than Epaphras left to labour with Paul in the mission field. Perhaps Epaphras thought that Paul and not he, would be best suited to clarify the matter to the new converts ‘in Christ’; after all Paul was the apostle ‘of Christ’.
The content of the heresy or false teaching was eclectic. It contained a mixture of Jewish legalism, Greek speculation, and the mysticism of the Orient, and this false teaching was causing problems in the ‘knowledge of God’ that Epaphras has sown in them. Paul now writes to correct the problem; an inadequate theology, which he calls a philosophy and an empty deceit (Col 2:8).
This empty deceit, a creation of ‘human tradition’, demanded among many things, a belief in a particular philosophy that accepted ‘elemental spirits of the universe’ (2:8), a certain acceptance of dietary regulation, observances of festivals, new moons and Sabbaths; all no doubt the remnant of their old Jewish way of life. Also thrown in for good measure was an asceticism which denied them the right to ‘handle, taste or touch’ (2:21). All this was proposed in order to get close to God.
The pericope of today answers this question. Before Epaphras could bring the Colossians the Good news of Jesus, they lived in a world devoid of the knowledge of God’s will; of spiritual wisdom and understanding. The lack of this knowledge left them ‘estranged, hostile in mind and evil in deeds’ (1:21). By the death of Jesus on the cross they have not only been reconciled and forgiven by Christ himself, but He has also established them as holy ( 1:2), guiltless, and beyond reproach (1:22). The demands of the false teachers lie exposed. Christ alone is the answer.
The question that then remains is this; will the Colossians remain firm in holding on to the true faith? For all that has been promised by the death of Jesus, stands to be lost unless they ‘continue, securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the Gospels that they heard’ (verse 23).
The answer is to be found in the reading of the days to come.
Fr Warner D’Souza