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TALK ON THE APOSTLE AND GOSPEL

 READINGS FOR SUNDAY 22/11/09

19th NOVEMBER 2009

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The work which Jesus Christ accomplished was pre-eminently a work of peace, reconciliation and unification. The Lord reconciled man with God. Man having made his peace with God is now able to reconcile and make peace with all men because we have been united to them by an unbreakable bond and community through the saving work of the Lord. Truly therefore, as children of the great family of God and members of the one body of the Church, there is peace among us, the peace of Christ, which brings unity: the unity of all people in the one body of the Church whose head is Christ. Paul writing to the Church of Ephesus desires to reassure them that in the person and work of Jesus Christ there was attained a marvellous unity of the Gentiles with the Jews: whatever distinguished and separated them was now laid aside. Between them was founded a new relationship which was the peace and unity of Christ. All Jews and Gentiles who became partakers of salvation in Christ comprise of the members of one Church and constitute the holy temple in Christ. This is the basic message of this Sunday’s Apostle reading which is from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. Let’s hear the reading.

Ephesians 2:14-22

Brethren, Christ is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”

14) “Brethren, Christ is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity”

Christ is not only the peacemaker who with his sacrifice on the Cross reconciled men with God and also among themselves. He is our peace as he is also our life. Here Paul’s thought seems to be inspired by the teaching of the Prophet Isaiah, who envisions the Messiah as the “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) who with his coming brings peace to the world and reconciles mankind.
Who has made both one”
refers to the Jews and the Gentiles who through Christ have become one “one new man” as he says in the next verse and one body as Paul says a little further down. With his saving work, Christ brought peace and reconciled the whole of humanity. This is what Paul means when he refers to the Jews and the Gentiles, in other words, all the other nations. Thus in Christ we now have a new people, a new nation which worships the same God, which has the same saviour, which depends its life and its salvation on the same saving sacrifice, which is driven by the same desire, which foresees the same heavenly inheritance, which constitutes the same family of the saved.
Christ made the two into one, having first broken down the middle wall of partition. This phrase has been interpreted in various ways. According to the ancient interpreters it means the sin which created a wall of enmity between man and God. In Christian terms, by “middle wall of partition” we usually mean the invisible wall that was set up by Adam’s fall which separated man from God and which kept him out of Paradise. But this interpretation doesn’t seem to give meaning to the rest of the verse or to the next, which refers to the union of the Jews and Gentiles. Modern interpreters support that the phrase means the wall which in Solomon’s Temple separated the court of the Gentiles from the court of the Jews and to which there was an inscription forbidding the Gentiles of crossing over with punishment of death to the trespassers. But again this interpretation doesn’t hold much weight because how could the readers of this Epistle, who were in the majority from the ranks of the Gentiles, know or understand Paul’s reference to it.

But according to another interpretation, “the middle wall of partition” is the Old Law to which is referred to in the next verse, and which by its ordinances was like a wall or fence which separated the Jews from the Gentiles. Christ then brought down this wall of partition in his flesh “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity”. The phrase means Christ’s death on the Cross which abolished and put to death the enmity that existed before and which brought about the reconciliation of both Jew and Gentile with God.
15) “Even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace”
This present verse is connected directly to the previous. The phrase “the law of commandments contained in ordinances;” is a clarification of what the enmity and the wall of partition is referring to. Thus this phrase means the various and many ordinances that had to be observed by the Mosaic Law which Christ abolished by his death on the Cross.
By destroying the middle wall of partition and abolishing the commandments of the old law, Christ proceeds to the making of a new creation “for to make in himself of two one new man.” The two again are the Jews and the Gentiles. Christ is the new man and the true image of God, the prototype and the first-fruit of the new mankind. In his person Christ creates a new man, the new humanity which without any discrimination consists of both Jews and Gentiles. He didn’t make the Greek into a Jew but a superior state which is the new man. Thus with this new creation Christ brought peace to mankind, first with God and secondly among themselves. In place of the enmity that before existed between the Jews and the Gentiles is now peace and reconciliation.
16) “And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby”
Here Paul is repeating what he has already said but in plainer words. Christ reconciled both the Jew and the Gentile to God in one body. The one body is of course the body of Christ that was sacrificed on the Cross and it also has the wider meaning as the body of the Church. The new man becomes a reality only within the Church. The Church which is the body of Christ and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit is the mystical workshop where the reconciliation of man with God is perfected. A precondition of this reconciliation is the death of the enmity that separated man from God. But notice that here Paul doesn’t say “destroy the enmity” but uses a stronger word “slain” or put to death, meaning that once put to death it should not again be resurrected.
17) “And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.”
Christ came into the world to preach the Gospel of peace. This cheerful message of Christ’s peace is addressed to all of mankind, to those that are afar off and to those that are near. Those that were afar off refers to the Gentiles who were strangers to the covenant. Those near were the Jews, the chosen people of God and who had received the law and the covenant.
18) “For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”
The peace and reconciliation which Christ has granted permits us to approach God the Father. “We both” again means the Jew and Gentile, in other words, independent of their previous state, they now have access to the Father and this access, this approach and possibility of communion with God is made possible in one Spirit. The image of approaching God is inspired by the usual attempts of man to approach someone holding a very high and important position by asking someone else who is already near to him to at as a go-between. Here the person who acts as the go-between is Christ who reconciles man to God. Our access or approach to God is made in one Spirit. St. John Chrysostom says: “The work of our approach to God the Father is brought about equally by Christ and by the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit forms the Church in one body, the body of Christ, in which continues the work of reconciliation of men and achieves their approach to God the Father. The Trinitarian character of the verse is apparent. The work of reconciliation in Christ and the creation of man as one body in the Church is a work that involves the participation of all three divine Persons of the Holy Trinity.
19) “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God”
What Paul now says as also in the following two verses consists of the consequence or outcome of everything he has said so far. The Christians who came from the ranks of the Gentiles, from the moment of their reconciliation and incorporation into the one body of the Church, they are no longer strangers and foreigners. Strangers and foreigners are similar in meaning but the use of both words by Paul is to show a difference. A stranger is an alien, someone who doesn’t have citizenship of a country and therefore hasn’t the legal rights of a citizen. A foreigner on the other hand, is the person who is accepted as a permanent inhabitant of a certain place, but doesn’t enjoy the full rights of a citizen. The Apostle Peter in his first Epistle (1 Peter 2:11) uses the words strangers and pilgrims to stress the temporary residence of Christians in this present world. The Gentiles who were previously without Christ and aliens to the state of Israel and the covenant of God’s promise, were without hope and as atheist in the world, but now they are fellow citizens with the saints and belong to God’s family. The saints Paul is referring to are not the Old Testament saints, but every baptized Christian who comprise the new people of God. The phrase “fellowcitizens with the saints” thus means that the Gentiles who were once distant from Christ are now members of his body and they too are saints and belong to the new family of God.
20) “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone”
To emphasize the accession of the Gentiles to the body of the Church, Paul uses an image of a building construction to show a similarity with the Church, an image that Christ and other New Testament writers have also used. The Gentiles who have been incorporated into the new faith were built like living bricks to the spiritual construction of the Church. The foundation of this building are the Apostles and the Prophets. The Apostles comprise the foundation of the Church because they were the first to believe and so were built into the structure of the Church before everyone else, and also because their preaching is like the groundwork and base of the Church. By Prophets we should understand the Prophets of the first Church and not the Prophets of the Old Testament, which is why they are mentioned second to the Apostles. The cornerstone is Jesus Christ himself. The cornerstone is the stone that is placed at the lowest point of a building were two walls meet which joins and hold them together and so supports the whole building. By using the image of a cornerstone, Paul wants to stress that Christ as the cornerstone joins and holds together Gentiles and Jews in the building of the Church.
In this verse, Paul places the Apostles and the Prophets as the foundation of the Church, but in Corinthians he says that Christ is the foundation. The one example does not actually contradict the other if we take into account that the Apostles and Prophets are the foundation with the interpretation that with their preaching, they place Christ as the foundation of their preaching and then build upon this.
21) “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord”
The building of the Church is founded and supported by Christ. The term “all the building” can mean the whole community of a local Church or the Church universal comprising of all Christians in everyplace of the world. The word groweth expresses the dynamic journey of the church in the world with regards to achieving her destination which is to become a holy temple in the Lord. The holiness of the Church is not static but continues to grow. The Church journeys continually towards fullness which is meant by the verb to grow. A Church without growth towards holiness isn’t a living Church of Christ just as a body without growth is dead.
22) “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
This last verse is very similar to the previous verse. In the building of the Church which Christ is the cornerstone, we are all built together, both the receivers of the Epistle who were the Christians of Ephesus and all of us, so that we might become a habitation of God. In other words like the previous verse, we might become a holy temple where God resides. Elsewhere Paul says that the faithful are the temple of the Holy Spirit. The faithful become the habitation of God through the Holy Spirit. In the construction of the Church as a holy temple and habitation of the Lord, the Holy Spirit is present and actively working towards its completion.

 

Luke 12:16-21

The Lord said this parable: The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

The Parable is known as the Parable of the Foolish rich man. Christ said this Parable to correct the way of life of all of us. For just as the rich man of the Parable fell to the temptation of greed and the love for wealth and became greedy and miserly, a true idol worshipper who worshipped the material wealth instead of the one true God, the same can happen to each and every one of us. The temptation of greed, in other words, the possession of material goods, more than what we actually need and our dependence on them, creates a danger for our salvation
Although the rich man had gained material wealth he had in fact failed in life. In the evening he made plans that would keep him living comfortably for many years, but by the morning death put an end to his life. But before the death of his body, he had already given up his soul to death, because he lived the hell of being separated from God and from his fellow men. Christ calls him a fool and his failure in life is all due to his foolishness. Lets take a deeper look at the mistakes the rich man made with the hope that we do not make the same.
Life without God was the basic sin of the rich man. He denied the divine will of God, that is, the holy commandments, which if someone follows can live in eternity. He lived autonomously, by his own rule of life, which served the desires and needs of his carnal nature and became his passion. But life without relationship, love and communion with God, without participation in the Trinitarian way of life is a choice of death. The image of the three divine persons of the Holy Trinity shows us that life is fulfilled when it is a communion of love. When our life is love for God and for all men, we confess our faith in the Holy Trinity and we become true images of God on earth. If God and mankind do not live in our hearts and we in them, then we deliver ourselves to death, which is the result of being separated from God. We are deprived of the breath of life, the grace of the Holy Spirit, who gives life to everything. The rich man lived this death of God’s absence everyday, and was his great unhappiness. But because man cannot live without God, something has to take his place and in the rich man’s case his wealth became his god. The thirst for God in his soul was replaced by thirst for wealth. By this god, his whole life depended on, his happiness and his long life, which he desired so that he could satisfy his passions. Thus he became an idol worshipper, because he loved wealth. The Apostle Paul himself calls and greed idolatry (Col. 3:5). Greed is the uncontrollable attachment of the human heart to material goods of this world. The man who becomes subject and prisoner to the desire of obtaining and possessing more and more material goods, distances himself from God and devotes himself completely to his possessions, which take the place of God. Therefore Greed is like idolatry because the person becomes so attached to his belongings that he cannot bear to part from them. They are his gods that he worships.
The rich man living in his loveless hell is deprived of even the slightest trace of the divine knowledge, of divine enlightenment, which guides man so that he doesn’t trip up in the darkness of the passions. In the darkness of his mind from the absence of God and the desires of the flesh, he makes plans for his life and for his future. Everything he plans foresees the satisfaction of his passions, to which he is a prisoner. The reason for his need to make plans is the bountiful crops his land produced. Christ says that: “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?” The bountiful and rich produce of his land does not become an opportunity to thank God who is the giver and provider of all things, spiritual and material. For the rich man the bountiful crop did not become a means leading to salvation, but the means to increase his self vanity and pleasure, his self centeredness and self love. If he was in the little bit interested in his salvation, the bountiful crops from his land would have connected him with God and he would have invited his poverty stricken brothers to become sharers of his good fortune. It would have been an act of love and would have shown that he was still spiritually alive and capable of allowing others to live in him and him in them. True life is life that communes with others, that offers and shares as a result of love. But none of these things does the rich man do because he is greedy.
Wealth is indeed a great temptation for man. Of the three temptations, gluttony, vainglory and love for wealth, the fathers say that the love for wealth is the most powerful. That is why when the devil used all three to tempt Christ; he left the most powerful of these till last.
With the thought of “the more I have the more happier I will be”, the rich man decides to pull down his barns and to build bigger ones to store all his fruits and his goods. And when he has fulfilled his plan, he will say to his soul “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” In his mind the foolish man plans ahead his future with a never ending banquet for his soul with carnal foods. This “be merry” in other words joy and happiness in life is his intention. But how is it possible for wealth to bring happiness when it has no stability and is similar to a liquid that flows from one place to the next? In reality he is living an illusion and all his goals to take it easy and enjoy life to the full for many years are full of vanity and failure.
If man desires material goods more and above the things he has need of, then he is suffering from the illness of greed, or love for pleasure or vanity. For the man faithful to God, the thing greater than all the kingdoms of the earth is that he is called by the name of Christ, in other words, a Christian. He has received the adoption according to grace and has become a son of God. (John 1:12) This is the wealth of God’s Grace, which gives fulness to man. To the faithful man God’s grace is like having all the money in the world, to the unbeliever it is not worth a farthing (Prov. 17:6 Septuagint). The world of money cannot be compared to the wealth of grace. Christ said that whosoever: seeks first the kingdom of God, he will not be deprived of worldly materials and everything we have need of will be given to us. “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” (Matthew 6:33-34)
The acquiring of wealth and the way of life of the rich man was death, but if the rich man put to death the spirit of this world which ruled within him and acted with his mind in Christ, he would have been transported from death to resurrection. With love for God and for man he would have made his goods common for all instead of holding on to them only for himself. He would have risen above the requirements of his carnal nature and would have followed a new way of life as a member of the community of the Church, which had all things common. (Acts 4:32)
Joy is genuine when it is the joy of everyone. Let my joy become our joy. Then the rich man’s words which he would have said to his soul: “take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” would have become reality for many, because everything would have come about through grace which truly gives rest and happiness, not only for many years but for life eternal. Joy is not the “eat, drink, and be merry” but “That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22:30). He would have taken delight in the heavenly bread of love which would have united him with God, but he preferred the wealth that decays and not the wealth of love.
This rich man who thought he had everything God called a stupid fool. And he was a fool because of the way he lived and thought. For God he was spiritually dead because he denied to love and have communion with him and with his fellow men. Death and hell were within him from the moment he replaced God with the barns, his crops and the “eat, drink, and be merry”. In short, they give a temporary welfare to the body, but do not accompany man to eternity.
Many of Christ’s parables have a similar meaning – their purpose is to teach us that we must have love for God and love for man. This was the meaning of last weeks Gospel reading of the Parable of the Good Samaritan: the answer to the teacher who asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life was “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Love is above all things. This is the teaching we have received from Christ and the Apostles and this is the message we receive from all the Saints. Remember what Paul told us a short while ago: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.” Or he could just as easily have said “I am a fool; I am spiritually dead.”
The saints are saints because they understood this message of love and lived and showed it in practical terms. St. Serapion the Sindonite, whose feast day is on 14th May, spent his life helping others. He was called the Sindonite from the Greek word sindoni meaning a linen sheet because he gave everything that he had to charity, even his own clothes and wore a sheet as a covering for his nakedness. One day as he was sitting on the side of a road he saw a beggar trembling from the cold and so he gave him the sheet and he himself remained completely naked. But because he was dead to the material world he felt no shame because he was covered by God’s grace. The only thing he had left was a Gospel Book which he always had with him. A passer by asked him: “Who made you naked” and he, showing the Gospel Book that he had, said “this.” Then he saw a man being dragged to prison because of debts. The saint sold the Gospel Book and gave the money to the man to pay what he owed. And when he was asked “Where is your Gospel Book” he replied: “It kept telling me to sell what I have and give to the poor so I obeyed.” Many times he sold himself as a slave and gave the money to the poor. Like St. Serapion’s example there are many more saints of the Church who have done similar things, not thinking of their own welfare or embarrassment and all for the sake of love for God and love for mankind.

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.