Thursday of Week 30 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 6:10-20

There is a cosmic sweep to this Letter which goes right through it and it is on that note that we conclude our readings from Ephesians today.

Paul describes the spiritual and Christian life as a battle not only against the realities of this world, but also against spiritual powers which are alien to God. We cannot deal with these powers on our own. Rather, we can only do so with the help and support of God’s invincible power. “Draw your strength from the Lord.”

Paul’s vision throughout the Letter has been cosmic. He has referred constantly to the unseen world, which was very real to people living in a world whose cosmology was very different from ours. He now sees the Christian life as a spiritual battle with these unseen powers, the evil “in the heavenly realms”.

“Put on the armour of God.” Isaiah describes God as arming himself against his enemies and it is with these arms that Christians, too, are to equip themselves. The reason is that our real enemies are not “flesh and blood”, creatures of the earth, but powerful spiritual beings in the world that we cannot see.

They are the source of darkness in our world. They are “the spirits who were thought to move the stars and, consequently, the universe. The Jerusalem Bible comments:

“They live in ‘the heavens’ or in ‘the air’, that is, the space between the surface of the earth and the heaven where God lives… They disobeyed God and want to enslave the human race to themselves in sin… If Christians are armed with the power of Christ, they will be able to fight them.”

Against such forces only the “armour of God” is effective, as without that help, we cannot “hold our ground”. The image is not that of a massive invasion of evil but of individual soldiers resisting an assault.

Although our modern world does not see the cosmos as filled with such superhuman creatures (although they still live in our science-fiction films and TV programmes), the weapons that Paul will recommend are just as practical now as they were then.

What exactly is the armour he is thinking about?

First, there is truth (“buckled round your waist”) and integrity or righteousness (“for a breastplate”). These are indeed powerful weapons. With truth, we are on the side of God. The evil spirit is the “father of lies”. With integrity there is perfect transparency and no shadow of deceit or dissimulation. What the evil spirit dreads is to have light shone on the darkness where he hides. These are truly effective weapons.

The breastplate of righteousness is another effective defence against evil. God himself is symbolically described as putting on a breastplate of righteousness when he goes forth to bring about justice.

Yahweh put on justice as his breastplate,
salvation as the helmet on his head;
he clothed himself with garments of vengeance,
wrapped himself in a mantle of zeal.
(Isaiah 59:17)

Also needed are “feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace”. While the feet of those who bring good news in Isaiah are seen running barefoot, here the image is more of the strong shoes of the Roman soldier enabling the wearer to cover long distances. What is called for here is an eagerness or zeal to proclaim and spread the Gospel and a strong faith in God and Christ. Faith is seen as a protective shield which, when soaked in water, can easily quench the flaming arrows of the enemy.

God’s saving work in us is our “helmet of salvation” and the word of God (the Scriptures) is the sword of the Spirit with which to fight the enemy. The helmet both protected the soldier and was a striking symbol of military victory.

And, in a way, most important of all, is to keep praying “on every possible occasion” for all that we need. We need to pray night and day for each other. And Paul also asks especially for prayers for himself so that he can continue, even in captivity, to uncover to others the mystery of the Good News. He calls himself an “ambassador in chains”. He asks above all for the courage to speak out as boldly as he ought to.

The sword of the Spirit and the need to pray are reminders that we are engaged in a spiritual battle to be fought in God’s strength boosted by the Word of God and prayer. We, too, need to arm ourselves with the protecting qualities mentioned here so that we can live an effective Christian life in an environment where there are so many threatening influences. We need to pray for each other and give each other the support we need to remain faithful to the spirit of the Gospel.

Above all, we need some of Paul’s courage to speak out boldly and not be ashamed to share our faith.

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