Wednesday of week 29 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Eph 3:2-12

Today’s reading is fairly dense and needs to be teased out a little if we are to get to its central meaning.

Paul begins by recapitulating what the Ephesians and the surrounding churches had previously been told, how Paul is God’s chosen agent to communicate the blessing of God’s love to the Gentiles in those places and that it was through a special revelation made to him personally that he was given an understanding of previously hidden messages that God wished his people to know.

As he puts it, he was given “the stewardship of God’s grace”. The revelation he speaks about is first of all the experience he had on the way to Damascus (Gal 1:16; Acts 9:15) and which was the great turning point in his relationship with God.

If Paul’s readers will only look closely at his words, they will get some idea of the depth of the “mystery” of Christ, that is, of the whole revelation that has been made to us of the Son of God becoming incarnate as a human being so that we could have a direct and unique experience of God’s love for us and of his desire to make us one with him.

In particular, this mystery as it affects them involves the intimate unity that now binds Jews and Gentiles together through Christ in a previously unimaginable way. It may be thought of as a secret that is temporarily hidden, but more than that, it is a plan God is actively working out and revealing stage by stage.

This revelation that has come through the apostles and prophets was something quite unknown to, or even desired by, previous generations. They are called “holy” because they have been set apart for God’s service. This is the real meaning of the word hagios (‘agios), a term also applied to all the members of the Church. The revelation, too, was not only made to Paul; in fact, as he admits, he came late on the scene. The prophets mentioned here are those of the New Testament and who, in the list of special charisms, come only second to the apostles in importance.

The revelation is that the Gentiles are “coheirs, members of the same Body and co-partners” in the promise in Christ Jesus made through the Gospel. There is a total equality between them and the Jewish Christians. This has been brought about by Christ and his Gospel which is directed to people everywhere .

It indicates the unique aspect of the mystery that was not previously known, namely, the equality and mutuality that Gentiles now have with Jews in the church, forming one body. That Gentiles would turn to the God of Israel and be saved was prophesied in the Old Testament; that they would come into an organic unity with believing Jews on an equal footing was not foreseen.

By a special grace, a special blessing, Paul has been made the “servant” of that Gospel, even though Paul believes that, because of his past behaviour, he is the very least in the community of the “saints”. He never ceased being amazed at how he had been chosen by God for his mission, especially after the way he had tried to wipe out the Christians before his conversion.

He describes that mission under two aspects: he is to unfold to the Gentiles all that comes to them through Christ and how that is to be personally experienced by them.

Up to now all of this had remained hidden with God, the Creator of all. And why was this?

It was, says Paul, so that the extraordinary wisdom of God might become known to the ‘Sovereignties’ and ‘Powers’, the evil powers that try to dominate the world. The evil spirits were unaware of God’s plan for salvation and so they persuaded human beings to crucify Christ, and it is only the existence of the Church that makes them aware of it now. For now Jesus has risen and ascended above them all in power and glory.

It is a staggering thought that the church on earth is observed, so to speak, by these spiritual powers and that to the degree the church is spiritually united it portrays to them the wisdom of God. This thought may be essential to understanding the meaning of “calling” mentioned at the beginning of the next chapter (4:1) where Paul calls on the Christians to live worthily of the call they have received. The fact that God had done the seemingly impossible – reconciling and organically uniting Jews and Gentiles in one church – makes the church the perfect means of displaying God’s wisdom.

So now, all of us can have the courage to approach our God in complete trust and confidence.

We, too, can thank God that it is through Jesus Christ and our fellowship in the Christian community, that we have come to know and experience the plan and the love of God in our lives.

Let us thank all those individuals and groups who, in one way or another, have taught us to know and love God in Jesus. And the obvious response on our part is to go out and, as Church, help others to know and understand the extraordinary things that God has done for us through Christ our Lord.

There is also, of course, a huge responsibility on all of us to strengthen the unity of all Christians among themselves and also to create close relations with Jews with whom we share so much. And we can include Muslims, who are also “People of the Book”. Let us hear the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper: “May they all be one…. That the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:21) and help to make it a reality.

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