Monday of Week 30 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 4:32-5:8

Having spoken about unity and the diversity of gifts in the community, Paul now goes on to spell out more clearly how these qualities are to become realities in the community’s life.

He calls first of all for tolerance and mutual acceptance. “Be friends with one another, kind and forgiving.” And this forgiveness has to be extended as readily as God has forgiven them (and us) so many times in Christ. So often we pray: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Does it reflect our actual behaviour?

Compassion and forgiveness are the exact opposite of some of the negative qualities Paul had mentioned earlier: bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander.

Instead they are to become imitators of God, precisely because they are his children. But how can one imitate God? We do it by showing to each other the same love that Jesus showed, most dramatically when he offered up his life as a “fragrant sacrifice” to his Father. In the Old Testament, the offering of a sacrifice that pleased the Lord was described as having a “pleasing aroma”. We are to make the same kind of offering of ourselves.

Through the concreteness of his humanity, Jesus offers us the way to grow into the likeness of his Father by becoming as much like Jesus as possible. We can imitate his compassion for the sinner and his readiness to forgive our sins. The way we imitate our Lord is to act “just as” he did. Jesus, offering his life for us to express God’s love for us, is not only the means of salvation, but also an example of the way we are to live for the sake of others.

People leading such a life, then, will strenuously distance themselves from certain kinds of behaviour which Paul mentions and, which one suspects, were not unknown among the Christians to whom he was writing: fornication, all forms of impurity, promiscuity; coarseness, salacious conversation and crude humour. Paul is moving from specifically sexual sins to more general sins, such as greed and other forms of objectionable behaviour.

Such behaviour should not be found among “saints” or a people who are the Temple of the Risen Christ. Instead, their voices should be raised in thanksgiving to God for all they have received from him through Jesus and the church.

Certainly people who consistently indulge in immoral sexual behaviour (such as fornication, adultery or promiscuity), to the point that it almost becomes an object of worship (and that is not unknown in our own times), cannot expect to enter and become members of the Kingdom. One cannot at the same time worship God and sex. The “greed” he mentions is apparently sexual greed in this context. Uncontrolled greed of this kind treats others creatures with the worship due to God and so turns them into idols.

“It is for this loose living that God’s anger comes down on those who rebel against him.” This happens not so much because immoral sexual behaviour “makes” God angry but rather such behaviour brings about moral and physical corruption which, if adhered to, of its very nature distances us from God.

The Christians are not to be associated with such people. Although the early Christians did live in normal social relationships with others, as did the Lord Jesus, they were not to participate in the sinful life-style of unbelievers. The same applies to us.

“You were darkness once,” says Paul, referring to their past life as Gentiles, as people without God. Now, because of their conversion and baptism, they are in the light of Christ and are “children of light”. It makes no sense for them to have come in from the darkness and then, by their immoral behaviour, go back into it. As such, they are not just living now in the light of God’s teaching but they are also called to be a light for those around them.

We can be tempted at times to have a very idealistic image of the early Church but it is very clear from the New Testament letters that the early Christians were still infected with much of the immorality which surrounded them.

Today we need to look into our own lives and see if there is anything in our behaviour or attitudes which is not compatible with our membership of Christ’s community. In particular, we might ask what role sexuality plays in our lives: Is it debasing or is it enriching? Does it bring us closer to Jesus or away from him? And to what extent are we influenced by the culture which surrounds us and what are we doing to give effective witness to the Christian Way?

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