Christ in the House of Martha and Mary,
Diego Velázquez, 1618, National Gallery (London)
(About this Image)
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious
and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 17, 2022
We continue this week with a reading from the “Letter to the Colossians.” Although for convenience, we will refer to the author as St. Paul, there is some dispute if wrote it himself or if it was the work of a disciple or successor. For our purposes it is important that the leaders of the church at Colossae sought the authority of Paul to combat false teachers. Last week, we read about what the real good news is. Next week we will look at who the opponents were. Today, we will see what we can expect from a leader in the church.
Paul did not found nor did he preside over the church at Colossae. The leader was Epaphras. Paul refers to him as a “fellow slave” (Col 1:7) who worked hard for the Colossians “and for those in Laodicea and Hierapolis.” It is usually held that he was the founder of the Church in Colossae and an important figure in the region. He is alarmed when teachers have come to his community with beliefs that were contrary to his and Paul’s. But he finds himself intellectually “out gunned” by them and seeks the help of Paul. If indeed he spoke with Paul himself, he was in jail at the time that this letter was composed. Paul refers to Epaphras in the letter to Philemon as “my fellow prisoner.” We should remember as well that when Barnabas was made head of the mission to the Gentiles, he too needed Paul and went to Tarsis to get him (Acts 11:25). The need to call upon the best talent has been a mark of the Church since its very beginning.
But as we have seen with Paul, most recently in Galatians and fully in 2nd Corinthians, it should be assumed that preaching the Gospel will be resisted and that a true apostle will have the scars to prove it. Paul’s suffering is well known but reminds them immediately that the faithful were the reason why he endured them.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake
These afflictions have a divine and holy purpose as stated in the next line whose meaning has been discussed since they were first written.
And in my flesh, I am filling up what is lacking
in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body,
which is the church
As we saw in last week’s reading from Colossians, the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is the center of the Good News and whole and perfect in itself. What could be lacking? It cannot be added to or improved upon. Paul is reflecting two key beliefs of the New Testament Jesus’ kingdom is already here but not yet completed and that we are connected to indeed united with Jesus.
The suffering of the disciples, from Paul to you and me, in preaching the Gospel is connected to Jesus. We read in last week’s reading:
He is the head of the body, the church
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
so that he might come to have first place in everything.
We also should remember that when Paul first encountered Jesus, he said to him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) He did not say my church, people, or friends. Jesus’ identification with us is total. He is with us as we suffer for bringing the Gospel to the world. Also, Paul is acutely aware that as the body of Christ, we participate in this not as individuals but as a community. We are Jesus’ presence in the world, his new flesh, St Augustine wrote:
Christ is still suffering, he says,
not in his own flesh that he ascended into heaven with,
but in my flesh, which still labors hard on earth.
(Exposition of the Psalms: Psalm 142.3)
Ministry in the church, then as now, is from vocation. We do not inherit it, nor can we wish it into being but must be given by God:
…of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship
given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God,
Paul has told us in 1 Corithinas that
When everything is subjected to him,
then the Son himself will also be subjected
to the one who subjected everything to him,
so that God may be all in all.
(1 Co 15:28)
But we are not there yet.
That he will call a mystery and we must be very clear what that means. Mystery (mystērion) means secret. We use the word mystery as a puzzle that must be solved. For the Gentiles of Paul’s day, it meant esoteric knowledge which must not be disclosed to outsiders. Mystery religions offered their members this knowledge. The best known to us now was the worship of Mithras. This was a cult popular in the army and had many elaborate rites and ceremonies. It also had many stages which brought greater enlightenment the higher one ascended. Thus, members had a deeper understanding of reality than non-members and the elite had a greater knowledge than the rank-and-file members.
The false teachers who came to Colossae were perhaps seeking to make Christianity a mystery religion in this sense. Paul is shrewdly using this against them.
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.
But now it has been manifested to his holy ones,
There is a secret plan which has been revealed by the Holy Spirit, but it is for everyone in the church. Leaders are not to keep it to themselves but to share with all.
To whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.
Although this revelation comes from the Jewish Messiah Jesus, it for all people including the Gentiles. It cannot be received in any way but Jesus. It is Jesus alone and Jesus for all.
It is Christ in you, the hope for glory.
“You “is plural and a play on words. It can be mean collectively “Christ among you” in the community, or districted individually “Christ in each of you.”
It is He whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone
and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
Paul mentions “everyone” three times. For Christ who proclaimed to everyone, there is no elite.
Again, we see that Christ is with us, but that God is not as yet “all in all.” We are not yet perfect. The Greek word is teleios means “having attained the end or purpose, complete or perfect.”
We all have the same goal, to be conformed to Jesus but none of us is there yet and none of us will make it without our faith in Jesus and love for each other.