Thursday of week 23 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Col 3:12-17

Today we have the final reading from this Letter and it is a continuation of yesterday’s reading. After warning against some negative behaviour in yesterday’s passage, Paul makes some beautiful statements today on the kind of people the Colossian Christians should be.

The Colossians are “the chosen of God, the holy people whom he loves” and, because of that, they are to be clothed in compassion, generosity, humility, gentleness and patience. When they “put on” Christ at their baptism, all these qualities also needed to be part of what they “wore”.

Israel were the original Chosen People but now the Christian community shares this name. Being chosen by God is a constant theme in Paul’s letter but the Scriptures never teach that our being chosen frees us from being responsible for our behaviour. We will not be saved against our will.

On the contrary, as Paul says here, it is precisely because Christians have been chosen for eternal salvation that they must exert every effort (with God’s grace) to live a life in harmony with example set by Christ. For Paul, divine kingship and human responsibility go hand in hand.

They are, he says, God’s “holy people”, his ‘saints’ (hagioi, ‘agioi). By that he does not mean that they are all canonisable; that was clearly not the case. The word ‘saint’ was applied to the Christians in general. Their holiness was less a matter of their own efforts than their having been sanctified through Baptism and their incorporation in the Christian community. They were ‘holy’ by reason of their being called, being chosen. “I have chosen you, you have not chosen me,” as Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper. The word hagios also implies someone who is different, set apart from the common crowd. Christians, by their lifestyle, are called to act as a counter-witness to the prevailing values of most societies – the salt of the earth, the leaven in the dough.

Frictions, divisions and disunity can never be totally avoided but Paul says they must be dealt with by a high level of tolerance and acceptance of others and a readiness for forgiveness and reconciliation. The reason is simple: “The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same.” The Gospel has much to say on this – Peter being told to forgive 70 times 7 times and the parable of the unforgiving servant; the command to love our enemies, to pray for them and bless them…

And so, the most important, the all-enveloping article of clothing must be love, “the perfect bond”. Love is the central commandment. The “new” commandment is that we love each other as Christ has loved us and the greatest love is to give one’s life for one’s friends. With this in place, everything else – absolutely everything else – is taken care of.

If all this is done, then the next prayer is likely to become a reality: “May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it was for this that you were called together in one Body.” Once we are totally united with Christ and his way of living, then we are where we belong, we are responding to the deepest needs of our being – the result can only be a sense of inner peace and harmony, even if all round us there are storms. (That surely is the meaning of the story of the disciples in the boat with Jesus in a stormy sea. With Jesus in the boat there came a great calm.)

And when that peace comes, let us also be thankful. Gratitude is a sentiment that must surface constantly in the Christian heart as gifts are piled on us one after the other, beginning with the very gift of life and the gift of the Good News about Jesus. Our most important act together is the celebration of the Eucharist. The word means ‘thanks’.

In the final part of the reading, Paul speaks about how the Colossians should pray and worship together:

Let the Word of Christ, in all its richness, find a home in you.

This refers especially to Christ’s teaching, which in the time of the Colossians was still being transmitted orally. By implication and, especially for us, it includes the Old and the New Testaments. It is a sad fact that, for so many Catholics, the Word of Christ in the Scriptures does not find a home in their lives. For so long the teaching Church was so wary of ‘private interpretation’ that Catholics were discouraged from reading even the Gospel. It is a situation which urgently needs to be remedied and these commentaries on the daily Mass readings are intended to be a small contribution in that direction.

Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom.

What we need is not just knowledge or information about our faith but the wisdom which comes from deep insight into its meaning for our lives. There is also a wisdom in the whole group, which individuals do not have.

Again, for so many Catholics, ‘teaching’ is what goes on in school under the heading of ‘religious knowledge’ but long experience has shown that it all too often does very little to build up a deep faith and sense of belonging in the Christian community. It is often totally divorced from both family and parish life. In more recent times, there have been movements towards more ‘faith sharing’ and ‘Bible sharing’. The whole of the liturgical experience, too, and not just the homily, should be a mutually teaching experience of what it means to belong to a Christian community.

With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God.

Some of the most important doctrines were expressed in Christian hymns preserved for now only in Paul’s letters. “Psalms” could also describe a song newly composed for Christian worship (cf. 1 Cor 14:26, where ‘hymn’ is literally ‘psalm’ in the Greek text). A “hymn” was a song of praise, especially used in a celebration, much like the Old Testament psalms that praised God for all that he is. A “song” recounted the acts of God and praised him for them, much like the Old Testament psalms that thanked God for all that he had done. “Inspired songs” could be charismatic improvisations suggested by the Spirit during liturgical assembly.

Paul here is expressing our need to come together to pray and share our faith and to praise and give thanks to our God and Jesus his Son. Again, this is something to be done in a genuinely communal spirit of celebration and prayer and not merely as the carrying out of a command or obligation by an individual. For us, it concerns the way we conduct our liturgies, especially that of the Eucharist.

For congregations where the vast majority could not read or write, songs were an important part of worship and prayer and that is probably the same in some parts of the world today. Literacy has had the very negative effect, again in mainly Catholic circles, of reducing the role of music and song in our worship, especially where the active participation of the congregation is concerned. Yet, someone said very truly that “he who sings prays twice”. One has only to attend Masses where there is no music and those where the whole congregation sings (and even dances) to appreciate the difference. It is time we took Paul’s advice more to heart.

Paul sums up his exhortation by urging that “whatever you say or do, let it be in the name of the Lord Jesus, in thanksgiving to God the Father through him”. In our liturgies, every prayer we make to the Father is made “through Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns forever and ever”.

Every single thing we Christians do is done for him. All is for the greater glory of God. We try to seek and find and respond to him in every experience, in every person we meet. We wish that our every thought, intention, action and response be directed solely to the praise and service of our Lord. Let us learn to be aware that every moment, every happening of our day is a sacred point of contact with God.

So there are two short prayers we might make at the beginning of every day:

  • “Grant, Lord, that all my thoughts, words, actions and responses may be directed solely to your love and service this day” and
  • “Help me, Lord, to seek, to find and to respond to you in every person and in every experience of this day.”

And, of course, these prayers can be repeated as a reminder during the day. At the end of the day it is a good custom to make a brief review of where we met Christ during the past day and how we responded to his presence. It will be a time for praise, repentance, discernment and thanksgiving.

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