Faith is a mystery, yet not mysterious. Wednesday, 29th Week in ordinary time – Ephesians 3:2-12
Chapter 2 and 3 of Ephesians constitute the central theological section of Ephesians and appeals to the unity of the Church. Galatians tells us of the sharp divide between Gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians in their approach to the practice of this infantile Christian faith. Ephesians speaks of the unity that we are called to in Christ.
These chapters, from the letter to the Ephesians, is reminder of the one who unites both Jews and Gentiles; namely Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:14 says, “he is our peace, in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is hostility, between us.”
Clearly, there are lessons that we can take away from this teaching . First, principle to the text is the primacy of the role of Christ. It is he and he alone that unites us. He is our peace! By our own efforts we ‘come to pieces.” Secondly, within the community of believers there can be no dividing walls. The church is one because those within it are joint recipients of the saving grace of God in Christ. Hence no group is better or greater than the other. No language, no tradition, no culture can create a one-upmanship in this unity that we are called to. But, one is bound to ask, ‘how then do we explain that Christians continue to experience disunity?’ Paul does not say that incorporation into Christ somehow erases the differences among men. However, such differences that do exist should not be the cause of alienations.
Unity is not uniformity. In bringing about peace Christ broke down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility that exists.( 2:14). While differences exist, the hostility has been taken away. In doing this Christ “ abolished ‘the law’ (the cause of the hostility) with its commandments and ordinances.” It was the slavish following of the 613 interpretations of the decalogue that had spiritually paralyzed the Jewish Christians and physically alienated the Gentile Christians. By abolishing the law and replacing it with the law of love, Christ has reconciled both groups (2:16) by creating a new humanity in himself (2:15) in place of the two groups. His action has brought peace; the focus once again is not on our desire or effort but Christs’ action.
Paul reminds us that he was commissioned to preach this Good news or as he calls it “this mystery (3:3). “In English a ‘mystery’ is something dark, obscure, secret, puzzling. What is ‘mysterious’ is inexplicable, even incomprehensible. The Greek word mysterion is different. Although still a ‘secret’, it is no longer closely guarded but open. More simply, mysterion is a truth formerly hidden from human knowledge or understanding but now disclosed by the revelation of God.” Here is something we need to understand about the mystery of faith that we profess and as Paul professed. We cannot ferret out an understanding of the mystery by use of reason or intuition. We can understand only when or if God chooses to open the door to our understanding. We can understand only if God makes known what otherwise would remain hidden and this he has done for us.
Perhaps all of this is very hard to comprehend and one may dismiss Paul as making up stories. Paul insists that this isn’t his invention. God revealed this to him; this is an assertion he makes in all of his writings. This mystery, says Paul was hidden from generations but now with Christ what was hidden has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets. The mystery is simply this; the Gentiles have become fellow heirs (synkleronoma), members of the same body AND joint-heirs with the Jews AND sharers in the promise in the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Paul is not asserting that the Gentiles have displaced the Jews, but rather the Gentiles have been invited to sit at God’s table with the Jews and to share on an equal basis. This statement would have great ramifications on the early Church. The Jews considered themselves to be exclusive heirs and an heir is a person who has the legal right to an inheritance. Jewish law regulated inheritances, giving two shares to the firstborn son and one share each to the other sons (Deuteronomy 21:17). Paul says that the Gentiles have become “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:14-17), the result of God adopting us into his family (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 3:16; 4:4-6; Ephesians 1:5; Revelation 21:7).
It is this GOOD NEWS, this Gospel, that Paul has become a steward of. Diakonos (steward) is the Greek word from which we get our word “deacon.” Paul has devoted his life by becoming a steward. He has no other objective but this. This dedication to the Gospel message was a gift of grace given to Paul by God. It was God who is working through Paul and not his own desire that pushes him towards an agenda.
Paul could have claimed a superiority in proclaiming this revelation. To say the least, he is the author of the bulk of the new testament. But instead of claiming superiority, Paul says that he is the elachistoteros (less than the least, far less)—an unusual word that emphasizes Paul’s inferior status. He doesn’t claim to be the very least among the apostles (a select group), but among the saints (all believers). This was not false humility but spiritual awareness of his calling; from persecutor to preacher. In being thrown off his horse on the road to Damascus he was brought to his senses and given a gift of grace and a mission to the Gentiles that Christ came to save them too.
Finally, all of this was done so that all may “see the mystery hidden for all ages.”(3:9). This mystery God also reveals through his Church. This was the plan of God from the beginning. Yet if there is fear we should not be afraid because through Jesus we have access and the boldness (parresia) to approach God (v. 12). Paul has already stated that, through Jesus, we have access to the Father (2:18). Now he adds that we can go to the Father with boldness (parresia) and confidence (pepoithesis).
The Greek word parresia (boldness) has to do with freedom to speak openly and frankly. In our prayers, we have no reason to fear that we might say the wrong thing or express ourselves badly or violate some sort of heavenly norm. God has granted us freedom, not only to come into his throne room, but also to speak freely. The word pepoithesis (confidence) tells us that we can trust God, we can be confident that God will treat us as beloved children, even when we are guilty of doing what God would not approve.
For the Jews, ordinary mortals were not allowed access to the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest was permitted entrance, and he only once a year on the Day of Atonement. But when Jesus died on the cross, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom” (Mark 15:38)—signifying that Jesus’ death has ripped open the barrier between God and humans, breaking down the dividing wall (Ephesians 2:14), granting free access.
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