What is difficult is not impossible – Thursday, 23rd Week in ordinary time – Colossians 3:12-17
Colossians 3:1-17 is a recognisable section of the letter and one that is often used to iron out differences in a community of believers. To understand this text fully we need to see it in its larger context of chapter three which has a pair of passages; one negatively focused (verses 5-11) and one positively oriented (verses 12-17).
The previous section of the letter (verses 5-11) with its concern with vices is now left behind. The text of today presents the positive dimensions of life in Christ. Christ provides the model and foundation for the life of the Colossians as he does for us. Notice, that these dimensions of Christian life are not some list for a few pious men and women but is a call to the entire community.
The list of five virtues in verse 12; compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience are found elsewhere in the Pauline epistles but sadly not advocated by a world that believes in aggression in order to meet ones goals. It almost seems today that what St Paul advocates are for those who do not live in the real world. But St Paul is a realist and not one who lives in a fools paradise. In exhorting the community in Colossae to live these virtues, he also affirms that this community had differences. In asking them to ‘bear with each other’ he acknowledges that perhaps some people were unbearable and perhaps quite painful in the community. Life is never perfect. We never get perfect families, communities, co-workers or congregants. The reality is that we have to work towards living these virtues by bearing with each other. Sometimes, what cannot be cured must be endured!
It is important to note that these virtues are not just suggestions being made but are in some manner of speaking, rules which prohibit unchristian behaviour. Hence, selfishness and meanness remain prohibited. If we are found wanting, then the text of today admonishes us to change and make these changes in ourselves, in our character and in our behaviour. We need to read these instructions as if they are directed at us, and feel the conviction in our hearts, and proceed to make changes that are necessary and appropriate for people with the status we now hold as ‘God’s chosen ones’.