First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Epiphany

William Loader

Epiphany: 6 January  Ephesians 3:1-12

This is an extraordinary statement about Paul - allegedly by Paul, but more likely someone writing in his name. It certainly honours him and claims a key role for him and for the communities which look to him, including the one where this letter was composed. But whether by another or by Paul in a more than wordy mode, the focus is ultimately on the good news. That good news, hailed as a secret divine plan, is that Gentiles were also to be included in the community of faith.

The dramatic account of the hidden mystery enhances for the hearers, at least those of the first century, the sense that this new expansiveness was not some ad hoc decision, nor simply a strategy of marketing a good idea or opening up new possibilities to gain a larger following. It was large enough and significant enough to spoken of as a divine mystery. It belonged to divine wisdom. In other words it emerged from the very heart and being of God. It is, thus, a way of doing theology in the strictest sense. It is saying: from God's own being there issues an expansive love which crosses every barrier of discrimination.

The case in point being celebrated is the inclusion of the Gentiles. If we imagine ourselves back into the ministry of Jesus we would be noting his meals with the marginalised, rich and poor. When we turn to our own age, we can extend the list. It would include many who because of their culture, religious background, skin colour, language, sexuality, gender, age, ability or disability, are despised or treated as of lesser worth. If it took effort to produce the heaped phraseology of the author to celebrate this truth, it also takes much effort to celebrate it and enact it in our own age.

The author's elaborations include Paul, but also go beyond Paul to suggest that this expansiveness and inclusiveness was also the business of what from a later perspective he calls the holy apostles and prophets, the church itself and its ministries. The church is constituted to embody in its life the inclusion of diversity. That is what the church is for. Does anyone care? The author suggests that it does or should matter to 'the powers'. Imagined as demonic forces lurking behind the evils of the day or themselves embodied in the instrumentalities of governmental and private power, the authorities and rulers everywhere need to know and experience that this is what this community is about (3:10). It is not there to play chaplain to established order, but to embody the God who breaks down barriers and challenges vested interests which give advantage to some against others or builds on forms of elitism and supremacy at the expense of others.

Ultimately it is about human dignity: being able to stand on your own two feet with confidence. Our author sees this as the appropriate stance before God (1:12). Here is no cringing model of humility before a God who is looking for people on which to put his feet. Rather here is a theology which sees God wanting us to be bold, confident and forthcoming. The former produces people like their god who walk all over others and build hierarchies of subordination. The latter frees people to be partners. The author prefers 'servants', but clearly means by that human beings empowered by love to act with strength and advocate for love at the boundaries and the barriers. Paul is the hero and model.

Gospel: Epiphany:  6 January  Matthew 2:1-12

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