What was proclaimed is now reclaimed.- Wednesday, 22nd week in ordinary time- St Paul’s letter to the Colossians 1:1-8

What was proclaimed is now reclaimed.- Wednesday, 22nd week in ordinary time- St Paul’s letter to the Colossians 1:1-8

Most scholars agree that out of the fourteen letters attributed to St Paul, some of them were actually written by his disciples, one such being the letter to the Colossians. The letter was written between 65 and 75 AD. However we know from historical evidence that the town of Colossae, located in modern day western Turkey about 120 miles inland from the Aegean Sea, was destroyed in an earthquake around the year 61 CE and was not rebuilt. The ruins were discovered in 1835.

Quite obviously, the letter could not be written to the community after the city was flattened by a natural disaster. This leaves us with just one explanation; it was written after Paul’s death by one of his followers in an attempt to have Christ’s apostle speak from beyond the grave. We will never know the identities of both the author and the audience of this letter as they are pseudonymous.

So does this mean that the letter to the Colossians is a fake? Absolutely not! The Bible is God’s divinely revealed word and He may choose any instrument to reveal it; even if that is a mere disciple of Paul. The Catholic Catechsim teaches us that the Bible is not meant to convey precise historical information or scientific findings. Moreover, the authors were children of their time. They shared the cultural ideas of the world around them and often were also dominated by its errors (CCC 106,107, 109).

The community at Colossae was a prosperous one, flourishing in the wool and textile industry. It even produced a dark red dye for wool called colossinus, from where the city got its name. This city of Phrygians, Greeks and Jews who alone numbered about ten thousand, was ministered to, not by Paul but by Epaphras, “a servant of Christ Jesus”, a companion of Paul. (Col 4:12). The people of Colossae had never known Jesus, but they did know Epaphras.

Problems had arisen in the community of Colossae that principally consisted of Gentile converts. Epaphras now turns for  help to Paul who was in prison (may be house arrest). There were teachers who exposed the converts to alternative teachings. They emphasized that their convert’s original belief in the gospel was inadequate and that only through special knowledge, ecstatic experiences, angels, principalities and powers, cultic practices and certain ascetic practices would they be able to experience fully a relationship with God.

For Paul, these teachings take us away from the person and work of Christ and are but “shadows”; Christ is “reality” (Col 2:7). Paul does not debate the issues at hand; he simply states in a beautiful Christological hymn, that in Christ alone we find redemption.

In the opening lines of this letter, which forms the pericope of today’s first reading, Paul congratulates the community for withstanding false doctrines with faith, hope and love. Their fidelity is bearing fruit for they have understood the grace of God. So what was proclaimed to the Colossians by Epaphras is now being reclaimed by Paul to congratulate the people for their fidelity of life.

Where does this leave the modern day reader of today’s text? In a world of swirling beliefs, new age movements, religious fads and philosophical deceits, will we find ourselves seduced or will our faith  hold fast to the true word of the Gospel? This question repeats itself more than two thousand years after it was first written.

Fr Warner D’Souza

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