Monday of Week 29 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 2:1-10

We now enter the second chapter of the Letter in which Paul speaks of how the Gentiles together with the Jews have been called to share together the gift of God’s love, showered on them with total generosity and not because of any merit on their part.

Paul here speaks about what God has done through Christ for both Jews (of which he himself is a representative) and Gentiles (who form the majority of his readers).

He begins by addressing the Gentiles (“you”) who in the past lived lives both morally and spiritually far from God. “You were dead in your transgressions”, a description of their past moral and spiritual condition, separated from the life of God. They were under the influence of the “ruler who governs the air”. The air was believed to be the dwelling place of Satan and all the demons and implies they belonged to a higher world than this earth.

But “we”, Paul and all his fellow-Jews, were not without fault either. They too lived “sensual lives”, ruled only by their own physical desires and their own ways of thinking. The Jews were as worthy of God’s punishment as the rest of the world. (One has only to read the prophets to see how severely they condemned the behaviour of their own people.)

However, “we” (now indicating all, both Jews and Gentiles), though dead through our sin, have experienced God’s mercy and compassion and are overwhelmed by the outpouring of God’s love. “When we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life in Christ…and gave us a place with him in heaven.” Paul expresses this truth more fully in his Letter to the Romans (6:1-10).

Notice the past tense “gave”. Already in Christ we are enjoying the life that will never end and for which the death of the body is a mere transition. Treating the eschatological reality as already existing is a characteristic of Paul’s letters written from prison. This way of thinking is also to be found in John’s gospel.

In the final paragraph, Paul emphasises how what God has done for us in Christ Jesus is a sign of the immense and forgiving love of God which is given to people everywhere as purely free gift. It is in no way earned by what we do. “By grace you have been saved through faith… This is the gift of God.” The saving is the gift of God; the faith is the trusting surrender of openness to that love. Our standing with God “is not from works, so no one can boast”.

Access to this love comes through faith, the unconditional surrender in trust of our whole selves to our loving God. It is not by any meritorious acts of our own, as those believe who base salvation on the meticulous observance of a law or a moral code. As if such observance bound God to hand out rewards for good behaviour.

On the contrary, we “are God’s work of art”. Everything that we have become, every good and beautiful thing we do is simply God at work in us and through us. We are “created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it”. But our doing so depends entirely on our openness to his guidance and help.

Let us then today say our unconditional ‘Yes’ to Jesus in faith. Only in this way can the deepest longings of our hearts be realised.

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