Tuesday of Week 23 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Colossians 2:6-15
We come now to the instruction part of the letter with some warnings against errors into which the Colossians were reported to be falling. As we saw in yesterday’s reading, they were apparently being carried away by a fascination with various cosmic powers and angelic forces. Paul begins by telling the Colossians that, since they have received Jesus as their Lord and Christ (Messiah), their lives should be totally rooted in him and built on him. They will be held firm by the faith which was passed on to them and they should be filled with expressions of thanksgiving.

But then comes the warning. They are to make sure that they are not made captive by the lure of some kind of ‘philosophy’, a set of ideas that comes from humans and which is based on the principles of the world but not on Christ. To deny or abandon Christ after he has liberated them from the tyranny of ‘darkness’ by going back to error is nothing else than to undergo a new slavery.

As he did earlier, Paul goes on to refute the ideas with which the Colossians had been toying, ideas that the world was governed by cosmic angels of some kind. It is in Christ and only in him, in bodily form, that the divinity lives in all its fullness.

The word “fullness” (Greek, pleroma) here is defined as the ‘divinity’ that is now ‘filling’ Christ in his human body: in other words, the risen Christ, through his incarnation and resurrection, unites together the divine and the created. In this way he himself is the pleroma of all possible categories of created being.

And it is in Christ, too, that the Colossians find their own fulfilment, in the One who is the head of every sovereignty and ruling force. A Christian shares this pleroma of Christ by being part of it, i.e. part of Christ’s body, and as a consequence of this he is raised to be higher than even the highest grade of angel. Paul then reminds them, too, that they have been circumcised, but with a special kind of circumcision. Here he is likely speaking to the Jewish Christians. There may have been some backsliding on their part and others coming under the influence of Jewish proselytisers emphasising the importance of circumcision. The same problem is dealt with in the letter to the Galatians.

Christian ‘circumcision’ is one performed not by human hands, where a piece of skin is removed, but:

…with a spiritual circumcision, by the removal of the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ.

It is the total giving of oneself to Christ, to God; the complete letting go of the natural self. This is circumcision according to Christ and it is sacramentally celebrated through baptism. Baptism was done by the catechumen taking off his clothes, being fully immersed in a pool and then emerging and putting on a white garment. It was a re-enacting of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus himself and an expression of total identity with him.

…you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

Then, speaking to the gentile Christians, Paul says:

And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.

Through our faith, that is, through our total commitment to Jesus, we are reconciled and made one with him. No physical circumcision can bring about this. Prior to that, they were dead but now:

…God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses…

The Colossians – both Jewish and Gentiles – are now liberated from their debt to the Law; it no longer governs their lives. This liberation was brought about by that debt being wiped out by nailing it to the cross.

The Law was able to do nothing about a sinner except condemn him to death. This death sentence is what God has carried out on his own Son in order to suppress it for the rest of the world, and it was for this very reason that God’s Son was ‘made sin’, ‘subject to the Law’, and ‘cursed’ by the Law.

In the person of his Son, whom he allowed to be executed, God nailed up and destroyed our death warrant, as well as all the charges it made against us. Finally, God:

…set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

The tradition was that the Law had been brought down to Moses by angels, and by honouring them as the lawgivers, people became distracted from the true Creator. Now that God has brought the regime of that Law to an end, by means of the crucifixion, these angelic powers have also lost the one thing that had given them power, and they too must acknowledge that Christ has triumphed over them.

Once again Paul demonstrates that Christ is supreme in sovereignty and the angels and all other cosmic powers are subservient to him. Christ, then, as we saw earlier, is the head of all created things and the head of his people – his body, the Church. Before him everyone must bow.

For us, it is important that we not be misled by fads and fashions which can come into our society or into our church. The problems the Colossians had can be found practically everywhere in the Church and society today.  We have the paradox of an agnostic worship of science combined with an obsession with ‘New Age’ and all its eccentricities.

It is so important to realise and to experience that the Gospel in its purity is a genuine source of freedom, because it touches the deepest aspirations of the human spirit. Many sects and elitist groups both within and outside the Church, however attractive, do not normally increase our inner freedom; often quite the contrary.

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