Reflecting on Ephesians for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, reflecting on Ephesians 5:8-14

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Paul explains why his readers should not be partners in evil—For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. As in chapter 2 and in 4:17–24, Paul recalls the stark contrast between his readers’ past and present conditions. In Paul’s letters, “darkness” usually refers to ignorance and spiritual or moral evil, and “light” refers to true knowledge and spiritual and moral goodness.

The Ephesians previously belonged to the darkness and were under Satan’s rule (2:1–3), the kingdom opposed to God (Col 1:13). But now they have become light “in the Lord” because they are united to Jesus, in whom truth (4:21) and divine life are found.

The fact that they have become light has implications for their conduct: Live as children of light. He repeats the catchword “walk” (NAB: “†live”) for the fourth time. “Children of light” is a †Semitic expression used by Jesus to refer to people who belong to God (Luke 16:8; John 12:36). Paul accents the fruit of their lives: for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Children of light manifest the kind of spiritual and moral goodness that everyone recognizes.

To clarify further how his readers should live, Paul adds, Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Other versions catch the nuance of the Greek verb dokimazō better: “Try to discern” (ESV). Paul is encouraging them to reflect on what Jesus wants. Christian moral conduct is not merely spelled out for us in a set of instructions like the law of Moses. Yes, there are basic standards, like the Ten Commandments, the instructions of Eph 4:25–31 and 5:3–5, and the law of love (Rom 13:8–9; Gal 5:14). But in the many situations of life, we must discern what concretely is pleasing to the Lord. Paul does not say it explicitly here, but the indwelling Spirit of Jesus makes this discernment possible (Rom 8:2–14; Gal 5:16–23).

© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Ephesians for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, reflecting on Ephesians 3:4-6

Gentiles welcome. To Christians of the twenty-first century, most of whom are Gentiles, it is hard to grasp the significance of this “mystery.” It seems old news that Gentiles can belong to the people of God. But for the nineteen centuries between the time of Abraham and the time of Christ, only the Jewish people had been the heirs of God’s promises, and these promises distinguished them from all the other peoples of the earth (Deut 7:6–7). It might be possible to think that this is simply Jewish chauvinism on Paul’s part, but that would be mistaken. Jesus himself, when the Canaanite woman sought deliverance for her daughter from a demon, confirms that the Gentiles did not have an equal claim to God’s provision that had been promised to the children of Israel (Matt 15:22–28).

Beginning with the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit, however, a new age has dawned in which all the peoples of the earth are invited to share in the blessings previously promised to one particular nation. This is the “mystery,” the secret plan of God, that has now been revealed. God always loved and took concern for all peoples of the world (Jon 4:10–11; Acts 14:16–17) and intended from the beginning to bless all nations through Abraham and his descendants (Gen 12:3; 18:18; Gal 3:8–9). Although the prophets spoke on many occasions of God’s future blessings for the nations (e.g., Isa 49:6; 66:18–20), Israel never imagined this would involve making the Gentiles “coheirs,” and “copartners in the promise,” joining them “in the same body.” Israel was chosen, as we Christians have now been chosen, to bring God’s blessing to others. Christians do this by proclaiming the gospel.

The basis of church teaching. Catholic doctrine rests on the apostles’ testimony to what Christ did and taught and what the Holy Spirit revealed to them after Jesus’ death and resurrection, including an understanding of the Old Testament in light of Christ (Dei Verbum 8–9). The apostles’ teaching has been handed on to us in Scripture and Tradition that together “form one sacred deposit of the word of God, entrusted to the Church” (Dei Verbum 10), authoritatively interpreted by the apostles’ successors, the pope and bishops.

© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Ephesians for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, reflecting on Ephesians 5:32:

Marriage, a sacrament. Although the New Testament teaches about marriage in a variety of places, Eph 5:32 is the primary basis of the Church’s recognition of Christian marriage as a sacrament. Sacraments are “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (Catechism 1131). How then is marriage “efficacious” and how does it dispense divine life?

Before the coming of Christ, God’s purpose for marriage was often thwarted due to the hardness in human hearts (Mark 10:5), and for this reason the law of Moses permitted divorce (Deut 24:1). The good news is that in the New Covenant through the gift of the Spirit, Jesus removes our “stony hearts” (Ezek 36:25–27) and makes us capable of fulfilling God’s will (Rom 8:4), including lifelong marriage. “By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, [Jesus] himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God” (Catechism 1615).

How is this accomplished? When a woman and a man give their consent before the Church, when the Holy Spirit is invoked on the couple through prayers and blessings, “the spouses receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of love of Christ and the Church. The Holy Spirit is the seal of their covenant, the ever-available source of their love and the strength to renew their fidelity” (Catechism 1624, citing Eph 5:32). In other words, the husband and wife become participants in the love between Christ and the Church—they become capable in a new way of drawing on that powerful divine love that surpasses human strength.

© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Ephesians for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, comenting on Ephesians 5:18:

The first phrase of verse 18 quotes an Old Testament wisdom text that warns against being enamored of wine. Paul is objecting to getting drunk and losing control of one’s speech and actions, whatever the alcoholic beverage or drug of choice may be. Paul criticizes drunkenness on the basis of what it leads to: debauchery, the ruin that comes from excess or throwing off restraint, and the opposite of the wise conduct recommended in 5:15. Saint John Chrysostom comments, “Immoderate indulgence makes one rash, passionate, prone to stumbling, anger and severity. Wine was given to gladden us, not for intoxication” (Homilies on Ephesians).

In a surprising contrast, Paul tells his readers to be filled with the Spirit rather than to be filled with wine. Why would Paul view being filled with the Spirit as an alternative to intoxication? At Pentecost, skeptical bystanders accused the Spirit filled apostles of being “drunk with new wine” because of their joyful praise of God (Acts 2:13). It seems likely that both Paul and Luke understand the gift of the Spirit as fulfilling the messianic promises of superabundant “wine” (Isa 25:6; 55:1–2; Joel 2:24–26; Amos 9:13–14) that symbolize the fullness of life and joy God promised his people. In the New Testament the Spirit brings joy and exultation.

© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Ephesians for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, reflecting on Ephesians 4:30-5:2:

It is striking how much of Paul’s practical instruction about our conduct is based on what God has done for us in Christ rather than on divine commands or ethical reasoning (as in ancient or modern moral philosophy). How we are to live derives from the fact that through faith and baptism we have acquired a “new self ” that has been “created” (v. 24) to be like God, which unites us to Christ and to the other members of Christ’s body.

More than that, this “new self ” exists in a personal relationship with the three persons of the Trinity in a manner that profoundly shapes our actions. We try not to grieve the indwelling Holy Spirit by our words or deeds, not wanting to sadden the Spirit, whose nature is joy. Rather than lose ourselves in destructive anger, as beloved children we aim to imitate the Father’s love and forgiveness toward those who wrong us. That is what the one whom Christians can call “Abba” does (Matt 5:43–48; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). Finally, we seek to follow our Messiah Jesus in a way of life marked by self-sacrificing love: “The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).

© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Ephesians for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, reflecting on Ephesians 4:20-24:

Paul is reminding his readers about baptism, which the Catechism describes as “the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion” (1427). But since most Catholics were baptized as infants, before they had the ability to make a personal response of faith and repentance, Paul’s teaching applies differently today than it did to his original readers. Ideally, Christians baptized as babies receive preaching and teaching about Christ from their earliest days and turn to the Lord as children. Ideally, their families and parishes prepare them well for the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and confirmation, and they continue on this path into adulthood, growing in their understanding of their faith and progressing in holiness and ongoing conversion (Catechism 1428–29).

But often it does not work this way. Some receive little or no Christian formation as children; others receive it, but cease to practice their faith along theway, succumbing to the influence of the surrounding non-Christian culture. These baptized but unconverted Catholics need to be evangelized in order to experience the grace of the sacraments they have received. They need to be introduced (or reintroduced) to the person of Jesus Christ through a proclamation (kerygma) of the good news in the power of the Holy Spirit, accompaniedby the testimony of those who already believe. Only when they (re)discover the truth that is in Jesus (4:21), believe, and decide to turn from sin will they be able to benefit fully from catechesis about prayer, doctrine, the sacraments, and the moral life (the major themes of the Catechism). Only then will the divine life received in baptism be able to flourish and grow through a renewal in the spirit of their minds (4:23).

© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Ephesians for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, commenting on Ephesians 4:1:

In Greek, the first word of the second half of this letter is parakaleō, meaning “I exhort.” Although chapters 4–6 contain teaching, their primary character is exhortation, an appeal to the will. Paul begins his summons to Christian conduct by reminding his readers that he is a prisoner for the Lord and appeals to them on that basis. The Greek literally says “a prisoner in the Lord” (JB, NJB, NRSV), a slightly different wording than 3:1 that emphasizes Paul’s union with Jesus in his imprisonment. He exhorts his readers to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received. The word translated “to live” (peripateō) means “to walk.” In the Old Testament, the way a person “walks” refers to that person’s path in life, whether good or evil. The fact that Paul uses peripateō four more times in the next chapter and a half (4:17; 5:2, 8, 15) shows his attention to ethical behavior in this section.

In ordinary Greek the word translated “call” means “invitation.” As in the Gospel story of the man who invited his neighbors to a banquet (Luke 14:16–24), so Christians have received an invitation to a celebration of the good things that God has for us. If you were invited to a banquet of the world’s most famous and important people, you would think carefully about what to wear and how to comport yourself. Paul is saying that since his readers have been invited into a relationship with God and his holy people that begins now (2:19–22) and culminates in the age to come (2:7; 3:14–21), they should adopt a pattern of conduct that corresponds to such an exquisite invitation.

© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Ephesians for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, commenting on Ephesians 1:5:

The next sentence reveals God’s motive for choosing us—a fatherly love that moved him to adopt us as his children: In love he destined us for adoption to himself. In saying that God “destined us for adoption to himself,” the focus is not on the legal procedure of adoption but on the result of adoption, that is, that we become members of God’s family, his sons and daughters. God intended to accomplish this through Jesus Christ, the only way humans can truly become God’s children. Although Genesis portrays humans as God’s offspring because we were created in his image and likeness (Gen 1–2; see Luke 3:38), sin severely damaged this relationship (see 2:3). When the New Testament speaks of becoming children of God it refers to a far deeper filial relationship with God in Christ and through the gift of the Spirit than was previously possible (John 1:12–13; Rom 8:14–17; Gal 3:26).

Sometimes people are a bit put off by the idea that we are adopted children since this term could seem to distance us from God. But as parents of adopted children can testify, adopted children are not loved less. In the Greco-Roman world of the first century, adopted children enjoyed all the rights and privileges of those born into the  family. . . . As children we can count on God’s protection, provision, and steadfast love (Matt 6:31–34; 10:29–31; Rom 8:39). As children, we are “heirs of God,” with a dignity so extraordinary that creation itself will be transformed when our identity as sons and daughters of God is fully revealed (Rom 8:19–21).

© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Audio: Peter Williamson on “The Catholic Next Door”

A few weeks ago we noted that Peter Williamson was interviewed on the SiriusXM 129 (The Catholic Channel) radio program The Catholic Next Door.

Below is the audio from that interview:

Or

Peter Williamson 5.18.12

 

Williamson’s “Ephesians” Ebook on Sale!

In June, Baker Academic is offering the ebook version of Peter S. Williamson’s Ephesians in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture for $8.99 (or less), over 55% off!

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