Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 19 )
Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 19 )
I have had to preach about shepherds quite a few times for it is one of the dominant metaphors in both the Old and New Testaments, and thus comes up in our liturgical worship quite often. But, I thought I would take a little break from that, even though we still celebrate it in song and psalm and readings today, and spend a little more time on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Because the second reading is usually continuous, picking up where we left off the week before, and not thematically based on the first reading and the Gospel, it is often ignored, or it is so dense that a simple reading of Paul doesn’t always make a lot of sense to most people.
So, I’d like to start with an overview of the letter to the Ephesians. First, it isn’t really a letter, it is more like an encyclical, and it probably wasn’t written by St. Paul, but written in his style and using his name, which was very common in early times. It was seen as showing admiration for someone. Quite different than we would think of it today.
But it was written by someone who was close to Paul or understood the themes Paul often talked about, even though there are elements of contradiction with Paul’s earlier work.
Usually Paul’s letters are written to solve problems at individual churches yet this “letter” could be for any church – it is more universal in content. Paul’s theology in his undisputed letters, that is letters we are sure he wrote, talk about grace through faith, how Jesus’ death on a cross saved us as when he today talks about reconciling “both groups to God in one body through the cross”, and how the Spirit gives us great gifts. This letter also talks about these things. But there are differences from Paul’s early letters, too. Early Paul talks a lot about death, judgment and the end of time. This letter rather ignores all that and concentrates on the now – that Christ is enthroned now and we, as believers, are already living the “heavenly life”. Salvation for early Paul occurs at the end of time – we will be saved, in the future. Present or future – which is correct?
In this letter the writer says we have already been saved through faith. It says this just before the reading we heard today. In the section we read today this is confirmed when he says that Jews and Gentiles are already united into one. There is no dividing wall or hostility, the writer says. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, though, he says that the process of unification has started but will continue in the future.
The writer today then states that “[Christ] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances” which is basically throwing out the Old Testament, while Paul in Corinthians clearly states that Christ did not abolish the Law.
In the passage today the writer is explaining how the Christians, who were Gentiles before, managed to come under God’s covenant with Israel. This happens through the sacrifice, the death of Jesus who created in this death “one New Man in place of the two” which Paul claimed also in Galatians when he said “there is neither Jew nor Greek”. In other words, we have become one with Israel, and the end result of that is going to be ‘peace’. Peace comes by getting rid of differences. When you think about it, most of the world’s problems are caused by “differences”. We don’t like people to be different, and we see ourselves as the norm. So Paul or his imitator says here that peace came through Christ’s death which united all of us under one covenant.
The problem in this passage, though, is the abolishment of the Law, which takes away much of the identity of the Jewish half of the equation. Elsewhere Paul has said that God will continue to be faithful to the Jews .
When there are parts of the Bible that seem to contradict each other, how do we handle it? I want to suggest to you that studying the Bible will both puzzle you at times, but also give you a chance to put things into context. Knowing that Paul did not write Ephesians allows the historian and theologian to evaluate the things we know are Paul with the things that do not sound like him. In context we can resolve what the original thought was, and sometimes dismiss the contradiction. But we don’t dismiss everything because often the newer writings are deeper insights into the original teachings. Yet, that is why it is also dangerous to take the Bible literally and out of context. Terrible things have happened as a result of that.
So what should we draw from Paul’s letter today? I would like you to concentrate this week on the idea that peace comes through unity, and unity often comes through understanding. When we are upset by someone different from us, or an idea that is different than what we have been brought up with, try to keep an open mind, evaluate and then make a decision.
Let’s look at an example. The gay marriage issue has been a complex one and both sides have staunchly held to their beliefs. By reading openly both sides of the argument, understanding why the Roman church opposes it, which is different from the reasons the fundamentalists oppose it, might just allow you to make a decision of conscience.
There are many such issues today which take away peace and cause conflict. Most of them are peripheral to the core content of Jesus’ message. But, let us be reminded of the third part of Paul’s teaching which is preserved in Ephesians – the Spirit will help us if we are open to what the Spirit is saying to us.
And this is the Good News I hope to get you thinking bout more today.
Bishop Ron Stephens
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]