We won the Jackpot! – Thursday, 28th Week in ordinary time – Ephesians 1:1-10
For the next two weeks, the liturgy of the Eucharist will present and ponder texts from the letter to the Ephesians. Without debating and presenting every scholarly opinion on the why’s and how’s of this book it is sufficient to say the following as an introduction.
Even though Ephesians 1:1 says that the letter is “addressed to the saints in Ephesus” we are not sure who this letter was addressed to as the earliest manuscripts do not mention the word Ephesians. This ‘epistle’ or letter is not really written in the style of Paul’s letters though its opening and closing make it appear so. Scholars have called it ‘a circular letter’ or a ‘theological discourse’ or ‘an encyclical’ sent to various Churches in Asia. The letter itself is not from the hand of Paul though in many ways may reflect his mind. When you compare the themes that Paul dwells on or his style of writing or words used, this ‘epistle’ reads far from the Paul we are familiar with.
So, who wrote Ephesians and when? Scholars have opined that Ephesians was written between 80-100 AD after the Pauline corpus of letters were written in the post apostolic era. At best we can say that it was written by an admiring disciple of Paul. We know that Paul visited Ephesus twice; during his first missionary journey (Acts18:19-28) and again on the third missionary journey when he stayed there for three years. Yet when you read Ephesians 3:2-4 it sounds that the Ephesians were not personally squinted with him. Hence the letter was written pseudonymously after Paul’s death. This was not meant to deceive us but was a style of writing in antiquity to honour the person one admired or to continue to keep his teaching or thoughts alive.
The author writes as a Jew to a largely Gentile audience with the message that in Christ God has “made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2:14). It is not easy living together as two groups who have previously been at odds with one another on religious grounds. The letter acknowledges that living with differences requires effort: it takes humility, gentleness, and patience (cf. Ephesians 4:2-3). And yet this is not written to settle congregation issues as in 1 Corinthians or Galatians, it was written to explain some of the great themes and doctrines of Christianity.
Our opening verse is written in typical Pauline style yet if you look at verses 3-14, it is one very long sentence in the Greek text. While most of Paul’s letters begin with a salutation thanking God, this text takes the form of a liturgical blessing of God’s name. The opening verses are part of a hymn of thanksgiving or what we call a “doxology” because it recites what God has done. The term comes from the Greek word doxa which means ‘glory’.
God’s name is Blessed (verse3), not once but thrice! We often understand the word bless to mean ‘sanctification’ but the Jewish word ‘Berakah’ translated in Greek to ‘eulogetos’ really means ‘to thank’. Our ‘Eucharist’ is a ‘thanksgiving’ to God. But why is Ephesians thanking God so profusely? The answer is found in our text. Because HE CHOSE US (verse 4) to be holy (Haggios in Greek means different) and blameless. He adopted us (verse 5) and redeemed us (verse 7). He has made known to us the mystery of his will (verse 9). God has blessed us and therefore, we will bless him.
Standing out in all these reasons is the word adoption. Adoption was common in antiquity as a result of the death of a child or in order to make way for an heir. But BECAUSE God adopted us, we ‘obtained an inheritance.’ In short, we won the jackpot! While adoption may not sound great to some, the context changes when the one adopting us is God. Because of the adoption we have a legal status as His children. Here is when things get better! God is not adopting one of us but all of us. Because we are adopted by God, we now bear His name; we are CHRISTians.
This adoption was not by chance, God had destined it (verse 5) according to his will (verse 9). No one forced him to adopt you and me. This was his desire that we become his. He adopted us because we were part of his plan (verse 10) and he did all of this because he wanted to redeem us, he wanted to buy us back from satan. The Greek word for redeemed is lootruo, which means, “to liberate on the receipt of a ransom.” He did this by paying a price; that of his son, Our brother and our Lord, Jesus Christ.
One is bound to ask, why us? Why choose sinful humanity? That, Ephesians tells us, is ‘the mystery of his will.’(verse 9). God is not capricious nor is he random. He did not just wake up one day and decide to pick us up; this was done with ‘all wisdom and insight’. He chose us “before the foundation of the world,” not only before our birth, but before creation, when there was only God. God was mulling over what creation should look like and decided that it should include you and me.
But his reason for choosing us demands our share of cooperation. We were chosen to be ‘holy and blameless. ’The Greek word haggios means ‘different’, ‘set apart’ God chose us so that by our adoption we would be different from all other people. God wanted us to act differently, think differently and be differently so that when the world see us they ‘will know that we are Christians.’ Yet God wanted us to be blameless or without blemish. Lambs offered in the temple for sacrifice were to have no blemish. God chose us to be set apart by the fact that we were to be offered to him without spot or wrinkle. He expected a high degree of purity—in this case, spiritual purity.
The rest of this magnificent blessing-prayer will be concluded in tomorrow’s reading.