Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

What Not to Do

In today's Second Reading from Ephesians 4, Paul tells his audience what not to do if they want to live good Christian lives.

He begins with a solemn statement: “I declare and testify in the Lord.” He is not speaking on his own; he speaks a message from the Lord. Further, he is giving a testimony, witnessing to a truth. The Greek verb translated here as “testify” is marturomai. Without getting too technical, this verb is in the Greek middle voice (instead of active or passive), which indicates that the subject, Paul, is involved in the action of testifying but is not the cause of the action. Paul is witnessing with the power of God.

Paul testifies that his Christian audience “must no longer live as the Gentiles do.” Paul is referring here to the pagan people surrounding the Christian community. Many of the Ephesian Christians had probably been part of that group before they embraced the saving message of Christ, and Paul is reminding them that they must change their ways to make their behavior correspond with their faith.

So what do the Gentiles do that Christians must not do?

1. The Gentiles live in “the futility of their mind” (verse 17). The Greek word for “futility” is mataiotēs, which can also mean folly, emptiness, or vanity. The Gentiles do not understand the truth. They remain entrenched in error, worshiping empty idols and chasing the vanities of the material world.

2. The Gentiles are “darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart” (verse 18). They don't care to know God. They remain in ignorance, sin, and darkness, unwilling to open themselves to the light of Christ. They are stubborn, and they remain far from God.

3. The Gentiles “have been callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess” (verse 19). The Greek word for “callous” actually means to be insensible to pain or to be apathetic. The pain caused by their sins doesn't bother the Gentiles in the least. They don't care that they are hurting themselves or other people by their licentiousness (Greek aselgeia, wantoness, immoderation) or their impurity (Greek akatharsia, uncleanness, lust, luxurious living) or their excess (Greek pleonexia, greediness).

4. The Gentiles are “corrupted through deceitful desires” (verse 22). The Greek for “deceitful desires” is actually epithumias tēs apatē or “lusts of deceits.” The truth is not in them. They seek after false pleasures, after lies that will not satisfy.

The Ephesians must not be like these Gentiles. They have learned differently in Christ, Who is truth. They now have the responsibility to put aside their old selves, their Gentile selves, and be “renewed in the spirit” of their minds (i.e., spiritually transformed in their consciousness, their reason, their emotions, their moral judgments, etc.). They must put on new selves, selves “created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” Righteousness, holiness, truth, renewal of the mind, these must replace the Ephesians' old ways of life. The “what not to do” must fade into the past while Christians embrace the present of Christ's love.

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