19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Humbly Following the Spirit

Cross of the Eucharist, Peter Winfried Koenig, 2005, St Edward's Church, Kettering UK

Cross of the Eucharist, Peter Winfried Koenig, 2005,
St Edward’s Church, Kettering UK
(About this Image)

I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.
(John 6:51)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 4:30–5:2
August 8, 2021

Whether written by Paul or a disciple, “The letter to the Ephesians,” is an exhortation. It does not give doctrinal instruction as much as encourage early Christians to embrace the consequences of what they already believed. But for us to understand their world we must try to reconstruct what indeed the author and his audience would have held. This week, we will focus on the Holy Spirit.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were marked
with a seal for the day of redemption.

(Eph 4:30)

The expression “Holy Spirit” could be found in the Old Testament. Indeed, we read in Isaiah that the Spirit could be grieved.

But they rebelled
and grieved his holy spirit;
therefore he became their enemy;
he himself fought against them.

(Is 63:10)

The Jews however would have understood that the One God was present to his people so intimately that he was affected by their transgressions. His spirit was among them but was not, as in our Trinitarian theology, a “Person.”

Indeed, the word Trinity does not appear in the New Testament. This was a doctrinal development several centuries in the future: a consequence of the need to express Jewish experience and insight in Greek categories. Yet Paul can end one letter by saying: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you”. (2 Co 13:13) Paul is reflecting on his own experience of God and, though divine inspiration and his own genius, discovering and expressing its universal significance.

Paul was a great persecutor of the church and while on his way to Damascus “breathing fire” against the Christians, Jesus appeared to him and said: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). This is a direct experience of Jesus and his Church. Jesus does not tell Paul that he is persecuting his people but rather “Me”. The first thing that Paul leaned about his new life is that Jesus totally identifies with the Church.

Several days later while recovering from this experience in Damascus:

Ananias went and entered the house.
He laid his hands on Saul and said,
“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus,
who appeared to you on your way here,
has sent me so that you may regain your sight
and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

(Acts 9:17–18)

Paul experiences the Holy Spirit and as with Jesus his experience is that the Spirit is connected to participation in Jesus’ people the church.

But you are not in the flesh;
you are in the Spirit,
since the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ
does not belong to him

(Ro 8:9)

And, of course:

Now there are varieties of gifts,
but the same Spirit;
and there are varieties of services,
but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities,
but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone

(1 Co 12:4–6)

We cannot even list all the times the spirit appears in Paul’s writing but in them the Spirit searches, knows, teaches, dwells, groans, cries out, intercedes, helps, and, as we see today, is grieved. This is the spirit that the disciples of Paul would have known, his acts are personal and directed to the development of the church.

The church is God’s primary instrument to proclaim his presence until “the day of redemption.” As we have seen before it is a means to the ultimate end that Jesus be “All in all.” It is most assuredly imperfect but necessary and therefore we find the Spirit at work in the church.

Ephesians, like her sister letter Colossians, has a cosmic dimension but their genius is to bring them not only down to earth but to the individual community, to indeed the parish level. This builds up the church one parish at a time. These were circular letters, that is sent to many communities and it is interesting that the author is assuming that all of them have experienced the same conflicts.

Put away from you all bitterness
and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander,
together with all malice

(Eph 4:31)

The Church, as Parish, is not immune to the usual, indeed expected, conflicts and difficulties. These can be overcome only by love: and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, (Eph 4:32).

The author here truly exhorts us by reminding us why we must do so: forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you (Eph 4:32)

St Matthew, the most directly pastoral of the Gospel writers experienced the same problem with his community and has the same answer (Matthew 18).

Today’s reading concludes with:

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children,
and live in love,
as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us,
a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

(Eph 5:1–2)

As we saw in last week’s reading, Paul’s community was asked to exemplify humility, the ultimate counter cultural disposition in the ancient world. Followers of Paul would have heard his teaching expressed in the great hymn in Philippians as well:

Have among yourselves the same attitude
that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped

(Php 2:5–6)


he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,

(Php 2:8–9)

The more we live for others the more we will be imitators of Jesus. This is the meaning of sacrifice, and it can mean that we do die with him if only figuratively we will also rise with him literally. This is beautifully expressed in the final line of the reading. In the ancient world a sacrifice accepted by God was said to have a pleasing odor. We read in Exodus: “and turn the whole ram into smoke on the altar; it is a burnt offering to the LORD; it is a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the LORD.” (Ex 29:18)

For Paul, all things do fit into God’s plan. We are an active part of this when we are humble enough to obey the Spirit in our lives. The love which comes from God always is directed to building up the community. This begins with our families and neighbors and should extend far beyond that. As the church throughout the world revives after Covid, we need to ask ourselves if we are humble enough disciples to be open to rebuild St. Charles. The best way to be church is to be a parish which does not grieve the Spirit.