18th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Walking with Jesus

The Gathering of the Manna, James Tissot, c. 1896 – 1902, Jewish Museum         

Then the LORD said to Moses,
“I will now rain down bread from heaven for you.
Each day the people are to go out
and gather their daily portion
Exodus 16:4

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
August 1, 2021

There is a tendency for people of the Global North to view religion as personal and private—a matter of taste and decision that should be kept at home or in church. Religion is a balm to the soul which we hope may bring peace and meaning. Fine and important in its place but does not have social significance. It is not surprising that whenever the Pope makes a statement on global inequality or climate change, he is passionately chastised for getting involved with politics and not sticking to religion. The early church would have found this incomprehensible. Christianity is personal, but not private. This will be important for us to understand as we rebuild our parish and the “Letter to the Ephesians” is a perfect place to start.

Last week we were told that we were to “live” in a manner worthy of the call we received. (Eph 4:1) The Greek word of live is Peripeteo which is more literally translated as walk. This means not only that our commitment to Jesus must motivate us but must also be seen. It is assumed to be public.

He develops this further in the next section.

And he gave some as apostles,
others as prophets, others as evangelists,
others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the body of Christ

(Eph 4:11–12)

Paul has spoken of the body of Christ in other letters. (1 Cor and Rom) As we have said previously, there some question if this letter was written by Paul or a disciple. It is not of great importance for our purposes here. That the thought expressed is that of Paul and that much of the audience would have known this teaching is. How and why were they putting it into action.

We live, we walk, as a community in which each person has his or her place. Paul’s insight into the effect of the Holy Spirit is continued here. We are not all the same and it is by using our God given skills and talents that the Body will function, and Jesus’ will be fulfilled.

until we all attain
to the unity of faith and knowledge
of the Son of God, to mature manhood,
to the extent of the full stature of Christ

(Eph 4:13)

The author saw this as an alternative to the world around his people. Our reading today begins with:

So I declare and testify in the Lord
that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,
in the futility of their minds;

(Eph 4:17)

Live here again is walk. Christians walk a different path and this will be obvious. Christians must look at the world created by the Gentiles and ask themselves if they want it? The author believes that, compared to walking with Jesus, any other way is futile or perhaps more accurately “empty headed.”

We do not read the next two verses at Mass, but they are instructive:

darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God
because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart,
they have become callous
and have handed themselves over to licentiousness
for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.

(Eph 4:18–19)

We should not see this as a condemnation of all who do not believe in Jesus but for the society that is created without him. We perhaps even have family members who live exemplary lives but who do not believe in God. Let us never forget that God is merciful, just, and creative. He will reach out to all people. The author is looking at the society in which his people live, and he finds it hard, unyielding, and “callous.” As we saw in last week’s reading, humility was deemed a vice in the ancient world and gentleness and kindness would be considered tarnished if expressed to the poor and marginalized. Love was reserved for the deserving and that was usually reduced to a matter of position and class. This was totally different for the Christian.

Also note that the author comments on their sexual license. Sexuality is a great gift, but if we do not worship a truly powerful and loving God it may be asked to provide meaning and a sense of transcendence of which it is only an expression. The English convert of the last century Malcom Muggeridge, said it best “Sex is the mysticism of materialism and the only possible religion in a materialistic society.”

The author of Ephesians is speaking primarily to people who were born gentile, who were formed in that world and still must live in it. They have been affected we might even say infected by it. To become free of it requires a total change not only of mind but of life.

Our reading today picks up with “That is not how you learned Christ.” (Eph 4:20) He is not only saying that we cannot come to walk with Christ by modifying the ancient world view with a few helpful ideas. We do not become Christians by learning doctrine. Christianity is not based on knowing about Jesus but in knowing him. Therefore, he will say that the “truth is in Jesus” only the experience of Jesus is powerful enough to free us from the world.

This requires a total change “putting away the old self and putting on the new” This is a reference to baptism. In that world you were what you wore. The newly baptized were given new clothes to wear as a sign of new life as Paul expressed it elsewhere:

For all of you who were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.

(Gal 3:27)

Baptism changes a person totally and begins the lifelong commitment to live out the consequences by “righteousness and holiness of life”

Things haven’t changed much.

I doubt that a Christian society ever truly existed, and we certainly do not live in one now. Both the left and the right in our place and time would fit very well in the ancient Mediterranean. Both require a loyalty test to ideologies to be seen much less loved.

To use the author’s words, our world is callous. To bring heart to it, to bring Jesus will be mocked but noticed.

This is especially true as we seek to rebuild St. Charles. The last year has shaken a lot of people. This is a wonderful opportunity. Jesus both attracts and repels people so much that he can be too frightening in normal times but an option in times of distress.

If we walk with Jesus, if we are truly the new self, we will bewilder, we will annoy but we will also intrigue and with God’s grace attract for “the truth is in Jesus.”