Friday of Week 29 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 4:1-6

Today and tomorrow we read a powerful call to unity in the Church. It is in two parts and in today’s reading Paul speaks of the sources of unity, the elements in our Christian life which we have in common. Tomorrow he will speak rather of the variety that exists in the community.

Today, there is a general plea for unity in the church. Christians have been:

  • fashioned through the Spirit into a single harmonious religious community (one body, 4:12),
  • belonging to a single Lord (in contrast to the many gods of the pagan world),
  • and by one way of salvation through faith,
  • brought out especially by the significance of baptism (1-6, cf. Rom 6:1-11).

But Christian unity is more than adherence to a common belief. It is manifested in the exalted Christ’s gifts to individuals to serve so as to make the community more Christlike (11-16). This teaching on Christ as the source of the gifts is introduced in v8 by a citation of Psalm 68:18, which depicts Yahweh triumphantly leading Israel to salvation in Jerusalem.

In Paul’s letter, it is understood that Christ, ascending above all the heavens, the head of the church, through his redemptive death, resurrection, and ascension, has become the source of the church’s spiritual gifts. The “descent” of Christ (9-10) refers more probably to the incarnation (cf Phil 2:6-8) than to Christ’s presence after his death in the world of the dead (New American Bible).

The chapter begins and ends with exhortations to love and forgive one another, which is part, of course, of the overall theme of unity in the Letter. In fact, the chapter lists three different threats to disunity in the community:

  1. arguments between Christians (1-3);
  2. diversity of service in the church (7-11); and
  3. unorthodox teaching (14-15)

Each of these threats can be dealt with by all being united together in Christ. We will see the first of these in today’s reading.

So far Paul has taught that God brought Jew and Gentile into a new relationship to each other in the church and that he called on the church to give witness to his wisdom. Paul now shows how God made provision for those in the church to live and work together in unity and to grow together into maturity.

Real unity can only be said to exist when there is a harmonious relationship between a variety of elements. It is not the same as uniformity; the last thing Paul wanted was to have a church of identical clones. The distinction between unity and uniformity is crucial in the life of the Church today.

Paul, speaking from his place of captivity (it may not have been much more than house arrest), appeals to the church to remain faithful to its original calling, that is, the call to be a follower of Christ. Implying that there are some divisions among them, he asks them to be more accepting and understanding of each other “with all humility and gentleness, with patience”. They can do this by bearing with one another through love and by being aware of the unity of the Spirit, shown by the deep ties of peace that bind them together. That peace is the sign of the Spirit at work among them. And it is a truly inner peace and not just an external absence of conflict.

He then lists the gifts they all share in common. There are seven ‘unities’ listed, reflecting the Trinity but in reverse order to normal:

  • Spirit, Christ, Father
  • Church, Spirit, hope
  • Lord, faith in Christ, baptism
  • One God

There is:

  1. one Body, that is, the Body of the church with Christ as its unifying Head;
  2. one Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, given to them in baptism;
  3. one shared hope, a confident assurance that they will be called together one day to enjoy a glorious future of happiness without end, face to face with God;
  4. one Lord, Jesus Christ;
  5. one faith in Jesus Christ and his Gospel;
  6. one baptism, referring most probably not just to a “baptism in the Spirit” but to the external sacramental celebration by which one was publicly marked as a member of the community.
  7. one God, the Father of each one without exception, who is “over all, through all and within all”.

With such bonds linking the members together, both Jews and Gentiles, there can be no place for disunity and conflict. The links are both with the Persons of the Trinity and with the members of the community – all sharing in the one Divine Life.

Let us too remind ourselves that, today, we too as Christians have all these in common. Let us pray that we may grow more deeply aware of these common elements and they may help to bring us all closer together in a common faith, hope and love.

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