Saturday, May 7
Colossians 2:10-23: The realm of angelic beings, “all principality and power,” is subject to Christ, who is the Head of the Church (verses 10,15).
Paul now goes on to discuss our communion with Christ, initiated through Baptism, the sacrament that fulfills and replaces the Old Testament initiatory rite of circumcision (verse 11). Although Baptism is a bodily thing, it does not, like circumcision, leave a bodily mark. The “mark” of Baptism is visible only to God. The flesh of the baptized Christian looks exactly like all other flesh. His real life is “hidden with Christ in God” (3:3).
Yet, Baptism does involve a definite “putting off” (apekdysis, a word found only here in the New Testament) of “the body of the flesh.” This latter expression, as is indicated by the (textually unreliable, alas) reading “sins of the flesh” found in the King James Version, means the ascetical life of the believer, who lives no longer under the dominance of the fleshly passions.
Paul’s point here, then, is a contrast between circumcision, whereby the initiate lose only part of his flesh, and Baptism, by which the believer completely abandons a fleshly way of life.
This latter way of life is a spiritual circumcision (cf. Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:29; Philippians 3:3), here called “the circumcision of Christ.” The following chapter will spell out what this spiritual circumcision means in practice.
Baptism is no mere ritual (much less, merely a symbol), because through it the believing initiate is mystically united to the burial and Resurrection of Christ Himself (verse 12; cf. Romans 6:1-11). To be baptized, therefore, is a supreme act of faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. (Baptism actually accomplishes that which it symbolizes, which is the definition of a sacrament. It is not a “work” performed by the believer. It is a work of the living Christ Himself. No matter who the minister of Baptism is, it is always Christ who baptizes.)
This union with Christ in Baptism is indicated by the preposition and prefix “syn-,” meaning “with.” Thus, we believers died “with Christ” (syn Christo—verse 20), were buried “with Him” (syntaphentes avto), were raised “with Him (synegerthete—verse 12), and were “made alive with Him” (synezoopoisen . . . syn avto—verse 13, cf. Ephesians 2:5).
Unlike the Baptismal imagery of dying and rising in Romans 6, where the Christian’s resurrection in terms of the end of history, the accent here in Colossians is on union with Christ in the here and now. (Indeed, this difference of perspectives, from the future to the present, is in general one of the chief ways in which Colossians and Ephesians differ from Romans.) Even now this union with Christ is accomplished by the divine energy (energia tou Theou) at work in us. Paul has ready recourse to this word energia in Colossians (here and 1:29) and Ephesians (1:19; 3:7; 4:16).
The “handwriting of requirements that was against us”—or more literally, “the bond written against us in decrees”—refers to the burden of the Mosaic Law, particularly those parts of the Torah threatening punishment to those who fail to observe its precepts (verse 14; Ephesians 2:15; cf. Deuteronomy 30:19). Christ assumed this burden and debt upon Himself, when He was nailed to the Cross, laying down His life in atoning sacrifice on our behalf (cf. Isaiah 53:4-5).
At this point in Colossians the expression “principalities and powers” does not refer to angelic being in general, but to those demonic forces — fallen angels — by whom humanity without Christ is held in bondage (verse 15).
The “in it” of verse 15 should more properly read “on it” (exactly the same preposition in Greek), referring to the Lord’s Cross. It was on that Cross that Jesus was victorious over the demons by His blood-bought abolition of our sins. The death of Christ not only altered our relationship to God; it altered our condition with respect to the demons. That is to say, the Cross of Christ was not only expiatory, but it was also triumphant.
Knowing all these things, Christians must avoid any avenue leading them back to subjugation to angelic spirits that would again enslave them (verse 18). Such an avenue would be a return to the observance of the Mosaic rituals (verse 16) and dietary laws (verse 21).
In speaking of Christian liberation from the Mosaic Law, Paul seems especially to have in mind the rabbinical interpretation of that Law, which he calls “the commandments and doctrines of men” (verse 22). Here we observe a resemblance to the view of Jesus, who quoted Isaiah condemnation of those who taught “as doctrines the commandments of men” (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:23). The weakness of those observances was that they were of “no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (verse 23).
Christians have been set free from those Mosaic regulations that served only as a “shadow of things to come” (verse 17). Indeed, those ordinances were but the early shadow cast ahead of time by “the body of Christ.”
This body of Christ is at once the flesh the He assumed in the Incarnation and the visible, social, institutional body of the Church, of which Christ is the Head (verse 19). The “joints and ligaments” of this body are those myriad and structured ways through which the Church is joined together, one part to another. Paul knows nothing of an invisible, non-institutional church. He has in mind here the concrete, definable congregations to whom he ministers and for whom he writes these epistles. These congregations do not exist in social isolation; they are concretely united by certain “joints and ligaments,” of which the present epistle, carried by Tychicus and destined to be shared with other churches (cf. 4:16) is itself an example.
Sunday, May 8
Colossians 3:1-17: We come now to the more exhortatory second half of this epistle, characterized by the more frequent use of imperative (“Seek”—verse 1; “Set”—verse 2; “Put on”—verses 12,14; “Do”—verse 17) and optative verbs (“Let the peace of God’—verse 15; “Let the word of Christ”—verse 16).
The Christian’s new state, his being already raised with Christ, is the basis for his striving to be likewise ascended with Christ, seeking and savoring the things above (verses 1,2). These two verbs, seeking (zeteite) and savoring (phroneite), indicate the two temporal aspects of our possession of God, the “not yet” (seeking) and the “already” (savoring). As long as we are on this earth, the life in Christ involves both.
And just where, while all this is going on, is Christ to be found? “Sitting at the right hand of God,” says Paul. The Christian sense of the presence of Christ does not bring Christ to the earth again, as it were. Rather, it raises the believer up to the throne room of God (Hebrews 12:22-24; Acts 7:55-56; Revelation 5:6). The real life of the believer remains, therefore, “hidden” (verse 3).
Our present state, containing both the already and the not yet, both the seeking and the savoring, is not our final state. Indeed, our final state is not even the entrance of our souls into heaven at death. Our final state arrives, rather, “Christ who is our life appears,” for then we too “will appear with Him in glory” (verse 4). In the Epistle to the Colossians, as in the Epistle to the Romans, full salvation is attained only when Christ returns to raise our mortal bodies from corruption.
In the mind of Paul, the believer’s having died with Christ in baptism (verse 3; 2:12) is not a passive state. It is the basis, rather, of a continual striving: “You have died . . . Therefore, put to death . . . (verse 5). That is to say, Baptism is the introduction to Christian discipline. In this respect, Paul’s teaching is identical to the following of Christ taught in the Gospels (cf. Mark 8:34-38).
In practice, this “putting to death” is directed to certain sinful dispositions and activities that Paul proceeds to list (verse 5-9). He speaks of these vicious tendencies and activities as “your members,” because each of them is identified with some part of our constitution. This metaphor is also found in Romans 6:6,19; 7:5,23 (cf. Mark 9:45-47). These things pertain to the “old man” inherited from Adam.
In contrast thereto, we are to put on the “new man” that is Christ, who is the very image (eikon) of God (verse 10; 1:15). The goal of all Christian striving is Christ’s complete takeover of our being and our destiny.
Christian striving is not only negative, because there are positive qualities that the believer is called to cultivate, qualities having to do chiefly with his social relationships (verses 12-14). When he was baptized, after all, the believer entered into a social body, the Church, the extension of Christ’s own body (verses 15-16). Especially important is forgiveness (verse 13; cf. Ephesians 4:32; Matthew 6:12).
None of this is possible, says Paul, without the joy of music (verse 16). A congregation that does not, on all possible occasions, sing hymns and psalms can make no convincing claim to being a Christian congregation (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26). All this singing and praying, however, must be done in Jesus’ name (verse 17; Ephesians 5:19-20).
Monday, May 9
Colossians 3:18—4:6: The practical points of the Christian moral life, partly enumerated in 3:5-14, must now be applied to concrete situations, first within the home (3:18—4:1) and then outside (4:5).
The home is the first place to be transformed “in the Lord” (verse 18). Indeed, the “Lord” (Kyrios) is explicitly spoken of six times in this section on the Christian home (3:18,20,23, 24 twice; 4:1), indicating that the Lordship of Jesus is to dominate all of the relationships in the home. Surely, if Jesus is not the Lord of a believer’s home, it is not likely that He will be the Lord of any other part of his life.
In this respect, we may note that in this section on the Christian home, everything is regarded under the aspect of duty, not of rights. Rights have to do with the political order. The home, however, is the true pre-political institution.
The first relationship in the home is that between husband and wife. Paul views the wife self-subjugation to the husband as a matter of decency, order, and propriety—“as is fitting” (aneken—3:18). Her relationship to her husband, on the other hand, is to be rendered easy by the latter’s love and gentleness toward her (verse 19). The verb Paul uses for “love” in this instance is agapan, the highest and most spiritual kind of love (cf. Ephesians 6:21-33).
From the home all bitterness is to be excluded, and the husband/father is to provide the example in this (3:19,21).
In this section on the home, the relationship receiving the most attention is that between master and servant, a fact suggesting that among all domestic relationship, this may present the most problems (3:22—4:1). Indeed, within the home this is the only relationship that is not “natural,” not biological. It is purely economic and most related to the political order. To this extent, it is also somewhat artificial, unlike other domestic relationships, which are pre-political and rooted in nature itself. Paul’s own reflections here tend to mitigate the inequality inherent in this relationship (3:25; 4:1).
From within the Christian home, the believer relates to “those outside” (tous exso—4:5). These relationships chiefly require the Christian governance of the tongue (4:6).
Paul’s comments on prayer (4:2-3) should be compared with Ephesians 6:18-20 (cf. Romans 12:12).
Tuesday, May 10
Colossians 4:7-18: As usual at the end of his epistles (and many of the letters that we ourselves send even today), Paul finishes with a series of greetings.
We now learn that this epistle is borne to Colossae by Tychicus, an Asian Christian who had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem to carry thither the offering taken up for the relief of the poor in that city (Acts 20:4). Tychicus has apparently been in Paul’s entourage ever since and is now dispatched back to Asia to bear this epistle (verses 7-8), a second to the congregation at Laodicaea (Ephesians 6:21), and evidently a third to Philemon, a Colossian Christian.
This last epistle concerns the runaway Colossian slave, Onesimus, who will accompany Tychicus back to Asia (verse 9). These two will bring to Colossae the latest news concerning Paul.
Other companions, who will remain at Caesarea with Paul, also send greetings to the congregation at Colossae. These include Aristarchus (verse 10), a Macedonian Christian from Thessaloniki (Acts 19:29), who had also accompanied Paul in his final trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4), was with him still at Caesarea (Philemon 24), and would soon travel with him to Rome (Acts 27:2).
Mark sends greetings as well. Since he had been directly involved in a sharp altercation between Paul and Barnabas some twelve years earlier (Acts 13:13; 15:36-40), Paul mentions Mark especially, making sure that the Colossians are aware that there was no longer bad blood between them (verse 10). We know that Mark is with Paul at Caesarea (cf. Philemon 24), but we lose track of him briefly after this. Shortly before Paul’s death, however, the Apostle instructed Timothy to bring Mark to Rome (2 Timothy 4:11), where we find him as an associate of Simon Peter (1 Peter 5:13). It was in Rome that Mark wrote his Gospel (, Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses 3.1.2; Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 3.39.15), before going on to found the Christian church at Alexandria in Egypt (Eusebius, ibid. 2.16.1).
Greetings are also sent from Epaphras, himself an Asian (verse 12), to whose zeal for his countrymen Paul here bears witness (verse 13). One is disposed to think that it was Epaphras who brought to Paul’s attention the concerns that prompted the writing of this epistle.
Greetings are likewise sent from Luke (verse 14), who has been with Paul since the two joined company at Philippi for the final trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:6) He will be with Paul till the end (Acts 27:2; 2 Timothy 4:11), though Demas, also mentioned here (cf. Philemon 24), will not (2 Timothy 4:10).
It is worth remarking that this presence of Mark and Luke at Caesarea at the same time seems to be the only recorded instance of two Gospel writers being together in one place simultaneously. It is not difficult to imagine what they may have talked about!
The Archippus in verse 17 is known to us from Philemon 2. The cryptic message in this verse was doubtless clearer to the Colossians than it is to us.
The Colossians are to exchange epistles with the congregation at Laodicea, which is also receiving an epistle in this mailing (verse 16). This latter work is most likely to be identified with the epistle handed down to us as Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.
Wednesday, May 11
Judas Iscariot and Psalm 109: One of the most important things that our Lord did during the forty days between His Resurrection and Ascension was to explain to the nascent Church the correct interpretation of the Old Testament (cf. Luke 24:25-27,32), including the psalms (vv. 44-45).
Moreover, it is recorded that the true meaning of Psalm 109 (Greek & Latin 108) was one of the subjects that explicitly preoccupied the Apostles during those ten days that they spent in prayer in the upper room awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in our limited record of those ten days, this psalm is the only passage of Holy Scripture actually quoted on their lips.
We recall that the sole task appointed to the Church during that brief period of preparation was the choice of a successor to Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26), and Simon Peter, as he summoned his fellow Apostles to that task, announced that they were, in fact, fulfilling a prophecy contained in Psalm 109. He quoted our present psalm with reference to the fallen Judas: “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it’; and ‘Let another take his office.’”
In the calamitous career of Judas Iscariot, then, we have the interpretive key and context to this very disturbing Psalm 109. It is a sustained reference to that most unfortunate man of whom Truth himself said: “It would have been good for that man if he had never been born” (Mark 14:21).
It is no wonder that this psalm is unsettling, for it is concerned with the danger of damnation. During the several minutes that it takes to pray through this psalm, we are brought face to face with the real possibility of eternal loss and reminded that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Hebrews 10:31).
No one enjoys being warned that the apostasy of Judas could be chosen by one any of us. Yet, the story pointedly appears in all four Gospels. Over and over, eight times, the New Testament stresses that the betrayer arose from among the chosen, “one of the Twelve.” Such too is the distressing, but very necessary, sane and, sobering thought raised in this important psalm.
Thursday, May 12
The Epistle of Jude: The "Jude" who authored this book calls himself the "brother of James," probably to be identified that James elsewhere known as "the brother of the Lord." If this identification is correct, then Jude himself was among the relatives of Jesus. It is also possible that he is to be identified with that Jude, or Thaddeus, one of the original Twelve followers of Jesus. (Verse 17 argues somewhat against this latter identification, nonetheless.) If either of these identifications is correct, the author of this epistle represents Palestinian, pre-Pauline Christianity.
There are reasons for believing that this epistle was composed late in the first century. Verse 3, for instance, speaks of "the faith once delivered to the saints," implicitly making an appeal to an earlier generation of Christians, and verse 17 (". . . remember the words that were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ") also seems to suppose a period after the lifetime of the original apostles.
In style this epistle resembles other non-Pauline works, notably James and 2 Peter. Its chief preoccupation is the preservation of the inherited Christian faith, then being threatened by heretics. Jude recalls his readers to a faith that they already know (verse 5). He stands staunchly on the side of an inherited Christian tradition.
Friday, May 13
The Second Epistle of John: This and the next short book of the New Testament are one-page letters. Each would each fit on a piece of papyrus measuring about 9 by 5 inches, which was the average size of papyrus sheets in antiquity.
The "elder" John here is the apostle John; from the historian Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3.39) we know that the apostles commonly referred to themselves as elders (See also 1 Peter 5:1). The "lady" he addresses is evidently the local church, whom he takes care to warn against false teachers. In particular he speaks of those who deny the truth of the Incarnation, just as in 1 John. Such folk, he says, are the real Antichrist. (In the New Testament, this latter expression appears only in 1 & 2 John.)
Saturday, May 14
The Third Epistle of John: What we know of the historical setting of this epistle must be derived from its brief contents. It was apparently carried by a man named Demetrius from the apostle John to a presbyter named Gaius and complains about a church leader named Diotrephes. John had already written something to the church (2 John?), he tells Gaius, but Diotrephes had thwarted his authority. It appears here that Diotrephes had somehow arisen in the church so high that he felt free to ignore and flout the authority of an apostle, and now John was obliged to "go around" him, as it were, to address the church. This is a most instructive document, indicating that problems of authority in a congregation, including situations in which local pastors set themselves up even above apostolic authority, are not really new.
The Prophecy of Joel: Arguably the greatest merit of the Book of Joel is that it provided the text for the Church's very first sermon at nine o’clock on the morning of Pentecost (Acts 2:14Ý21).
We know rather little about the man himself. Except for the opening verse of his book, the prophet is never otherwise mentioned in the rest of the Old Testament, even though twelve other biblical characters bear the same name. Unlike almost all of the other biblical prophets, no editorial care was taken to give an appropriate context and indication of dates to his prophetic words. Thus, the proper placing of Joel in his own historical setting is unusually difficult. His words tend, therefore, to take on a certain indefinite and even timeless character uncommon in biblical literature.
That said, Joel’s reference to the international slave trade (3:4Ý8), a preoccupation also of Amos (1:6Ý9), may suggest that he prophesied in the eighth century. Such a dating would also explain why this book traditionally appears in the Bible between Hosea and Amos, two other prophets preoccupied with the social evils of that century. A dating in the eighth century would likewise make Joel a contemporary of Hesiod, the notable social critic of the Greeks. Curiously, it is in respect to the slave trade that Joel does, in fact, refer to the Greeks, or more properly “the Ionians” (haiyowanim—Joel 3:6).
The context of Joel's prophecy was some extraordinary visitation of locusts, in which the harvest of an entire season was destroyed, endangering the people's survival during the following winter. (This agrarian concern also puts us in mind of Hesiod.) The whole population was facing famine. Joel's response to the situation may be summarized like this: "You think you are having a rough time now? Just wait. The present disaster is only a warm-up exercise for the Lord's Day, the time of His visitation in judgment. For those who refuse to repent, far worse things lie in store."
It is significant that the message of Joel, proclaimed at both the beginning of Lent and the end of the Paschal season, sets the tone for the most important period of the Church’s liturgical year.
Sunday, May 1
Exodus 14: In the previous chapter (13:17) we already learned that God had a plan. Now it will be enacted. Pharaoh is being “set up.” As though the destruction of the firstborn sons had not been enough, Pharaoh is coming back for more punishment. On the other hand, God intends this encounter, as He knows what Pharaoh is thinking. If Pharaoh is rash enough to do battle with the Lord, he will simply have to take his chances. Meanwhile, God’s plan remains a secret, even to Moses.
Pharaoh does not know that his own plan has already been subsumed into God’s larger plan (verses 5-9). Thus his very strategy against Israel becomes a component of his own destruction. Compare the way the New Testament pictures the plan of Satan being subsumed into Christian redemption (cf. John 13:2; 1 Corinthians 2:8).
The command to “stand” (verse 13) is more than a matter of posture. It is a summons to steadfast faith; cf. Psalm 5:3 — “In the morning I will stand before You, and I will see.” The Lord portrays Himself as a warrior for Israel (verse 14), something to which the Egyptians themselves will testify in 14:25. The image of God as a “fighter” for Israel will appear again in Deuteronomy 1:30; 3:22; 20:4, and it will be taken up again in the narratives of the conquest; cf. Joshua 1014,22; 23:3. The people must, therefore, “be silent.” When God is in the act of saving, it is best that man refrain from making comments about it, which will inevitably be distracting or even worse.
Although by now Moses is aware that God has a plan, he does not yet know what that plan is. God does not explain Himself; He simply gives an order that must be obeyed in faith (verses 15-18). Indeed, God rather often does this (cf. John 2:8; 6:10; 9:7; 11:39). Few things are more arrogant in a religious person than refusal to obey orders that one does not understand; we are dealing with God, after all, whom we shall never “understand.”
God has told Moses what to do; now God provides His own part in the plan. The text is clear that the mysterious quality of the cloud comes from an angelic presence (cf. Exodus 23:20; 32:34; Numbers 20:16). The traditional liturgical texts of the Church identify the angel here as Michael, who battles for God’s people; cf. Daniel 10:13,21; 12:1; Revelation 12:7. The cloud follows the people right into the sea, shrouding them in darkness; cf. Joshua 24:6f. St. Paul explains for Christians the meaning of this double experience of the cloud and the sea; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1f.
As in creation God had separated water from water (Genesis 1:6), He does so here (verses 21-22) in a symbol of the new creation. The imagery of the opening verses of Genesis all return now: light/darkness, water/dry land, and especially Spirit-wind. On the relationship of creation to the Exodus, cf. Wisdom 19:4-8. The two texts from Genesis and Exodus are read together in the Church’s Vigil of Pascha, which was traditionally the preferred time of baptism. The images of Spirit, light, and water were part of the Church’s baptismal catechesis from the very beginning (cf. Hebrews 6:4-6).
Since the destruction of the Egyptian forces is the major type of the destruction of demonic powers in the waters of baptism, it is not surprising that the biblical poets loved to rhapsodize over the scene of the Egyptian forces lying dead on the shore (cf., for example, Habakkuk 3:8-15; Wisdom 10:18-20, and many places in the Book of Psalms). This was a sight that Israel was commanded never to forget (cf. Deuteronomy 11:1-4). This scene by the seaside, combined with Exodus 15, will return in the vision of St. John; cf. Revelation 15:1-3.
The Greek word used to describe Moses as a “servant” in verse 31, in the Septuagint text, is therapon, which also refers to Moses elsewhere in the Greek Old Testament: Numbers 12:7f; Wisdom 10:16; 18:21. This noun, therapon, was used in classical Greek literature to designate a ministerial servant in a temple, such as the temples of Dionysus or Asceplius. It is related to the verb therapeo, which often means “to serve” in a religious sense; cf. Acts 17:25, for instance.
Moses is a servant, therefore, in a kind of liturgical sense, as a minister of worship among God’s people. Among early Christians therapon became nearly a personal term reserved exclusively for Moses, never being used except in reference him. In the seven instances of the expression in Christian literature prior to A.D. 110, it refers to Moses every single time: Hebrews 3:2-5; Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians 4.12; 43.1; 51.3,5; Pseudo-Barnabas 14.4. From these texts it is clear that Moses was thought of by the early Christians in the context of the Church, God’s house, where Moses continues even now to serve God’s people.
Monday, May 2
Exodus 15: The people of God have been hymn-singers right from the beginning. The singing of hymns is the Bible’s normal response to the outpouring of salvation; cf. Judges 5, 2 Samuel 22, Judith 10, many Psalms, etc. This particular canticle, which has been sung by Holy Church at her Pascha vigil from time immemorial, celebrates the Lord’s victory over the oppression inspired of idolatry. It should be thought of as the song of the newly baptized, standing at their baptismal waterside, their demonic enemies drowned in its depths.
It is not only the song of Moses and Miriam, but it is also the song of the Lamb, a prefiguration of that heavenly chant sung by the “sea of glass mingled with fire,” sung after the “last plagues,” sung by those who, with “harps of God,” “have victory over the beast”: “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints!” (Revelation15:1-3).
The encounter of Israel with God on Mount Sinai, which begins in chapter 19, will be bracketed between two sequences of desert stories, which provide a narrative frame in which the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai forms the center. We begin the first of these two sequences now, and the second will commence in Numbers 20. These two desert sequences contain some striking parallel narratives: the peoples’ murmuring (Exodus 15, 16, 17; Numbers 14, 16, 17), the mannah and the quail (Exodus 16; Numbers 11), the water from the rock (Exodus 17; Numbers 20).
The murmuring we find at the end of this chapter and into the next is nothing new, of course; the people have been murmuring since the Book of Exodus began, and we will be noting more about it as the account progresses. Here the murmuring is heard with respect to thirst, which is notoriously a problem in the desert.
The murmuring is rebellious, for the people’s anger is turned on Moses and is recalcitrant to his authority. They no longer “believed the Lord and Moses His servant” (14:31). This story is taken up in John 6, where the “murmuring in the desert” is directed against Jesus. The descendents of the murmurers in Exodus, immediately after the feeding of the people by miraculous bread in the desert, begin to murmur and ask for a sign (John 6:30). Then begins the Lord’s Bread of Life discourse, in which He contrasts the ancient mannah with the superior bread of His own Eucharistic flesh (John 6:48-58).
Meanwhile, the rebels continue to murmur (John 6:41,43). Just as the people murmured against the authority of Moses, now they murmur against the authority of Jesus. It should also be remembered that it was precisely in the context of the Holy Eucharist that St. Paul warned against the sin of murmuring (1 Corinthians 10:10).
Tuesday, May 3
The Epistle to the Colossians: From internal evidence it seems that Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians were written sometime during the two years that the Apostle Paul spent in prison in Caesarea (cf. Acts 24:27), from the summer of 57 to the autumn of 59. All three letters appear to have been written within days of each other and were carried back to Asia Minor by Tychicus on the same trip (cf. Colossians 4:7; Ephesians 6:21). Tychicus was with Paul, having earlier accompanied him on that final journey to the Holy Land (cf. Acts 20:4), and later Paul would refer to his sending Tychicus on this trip back to Asia Minor (cf. 2 Timothy 4:12). To accompany Tychicus on the same trip, Paul was also sending the runaway slave Onesimus, whom he was returning to his master Philemon at Colossae (cf. Colossians 4:9; Philemon passim).
The city of Colossae in southern Phrygia, about 120 miles east of Ephesus, was a neighbor to Laodicea and Hierapolis in the Lycus/Maeander Valley in southwestern Asia Minor. All of these cities, along with Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia, were evidently evangelized by missionary teams working out of Ephesus and led or authorized by the Apostle Paul. He himself spent 3 years founding and organizing the church in that chief city of Asia Minor (cf. Acts 20:31).
This congregation, apparently composed in the main of Gentiles (1:27; 2:13), was not directly founded by Paul (2:1) but by his associate Epaphras, who perhaps also evangelized Laodicea and Hierapolis (cf. 1:6-7; 2:1; 4:12-13).
Even though the Book of Acts says nothing about Paul going there, he apparently did, for he seems personally familiar with the members of the household where he hopes to stay if he returns to the city (cf. Philemon 22). It seems reasonable to suppose that Epaphras had evangelized Colossae during Paul's stay at Ephesus in 52-55.
Our earliest witnesses to the canonicity of the Epistle to the Colossians are the Muratorian Fragment and the displaced Asian hierarch, Irenaeus of Lyons (Adversus Haereses 3.14.1).
Colossians 1:1-20: Timothy, listed as a co-author of this epistle, was with Paul at Caesarea at the time of its composition (verse 1; Philemon 1). He had accompanied the Apostle to Jerusalem in May of A.D. 57, assisting in the transport of the collection made for the saints in the mother church (Acts 20:4). Timothy did not accompany Paul on his subsequent journey to Rome in the autumn of 59 (cf. 2 Timothy 4:21).
The problems at Colossae, addressed in this epistle, had to do with Jewish syncretistic theories popular in the religious circles of Phrygia and Lydia. These speculations, which evidently came from the Jews whom Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C.) had transported from Babylon to this region (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 12.3.4 §149), included reverence for angelic powers (2:8,10) that functioned as mediators in Creation. Such theories, Paul could see, would undermine the Christological principle of Creation.
Paul evidently learned of these heresies from Epaphras (verses 7-8), a Colossian Christian who has somehow gotten himself arrested and was in prison with Paul at Caesarea (4:12; Philemon 23). Because of this condition, this epistle will be borne to Colossae by Tychicus (4:7; Ephesians 6:21), who had also accompanied Paul to Jerusalem, bearing the offering for the mother church (Acts 20:4).
Paul tells the Colossians that he prays for them always (verse 8), and in this chapter he provides an example of such prayer. Its basic form is thanksgiving (verses 3,12), and its outline is structured on the triad of faith, hope, and charity (verses 4-5; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8; 1 Corinthians 13:13).
Paul prays that the Colossians will be filled with spiritual “understanding” (epignosis — verses 9-10; 2:2; 3:13), which will enable then to escape—and perhaps also to refute—the early Gnostic speculations to which the churches of Asia Minor had been exposed. Such “understanding” included a personal knowledge of God (verse 10) and the perception of His design to save the human race in Christ (2:2). This understanding is identical with “wisdom” (Sophia — verses 9,28; 2:2,23;3:16;4:5).
Paul’s “understanding” does not refer to a speculative knowledge but involves the transformation of the moral life by the sustained effort to please God (verse 10). The believer grows in spiritual understanding by how he lives.
Christians are called to be a holy people and chosen (verses 1,12), to share the “inheritance” (kleros) of the saints. In their vocation they pass from “the power of darkness” to the realm of light (verses 12-13). We observe that the darkness from which they are rescued is not the mere absence of light. It is a darkness that exercises “authority” (exsousia) over their lives. Those not in Christ, in other words, live in the bondage to darkness. To escape it is true deliverance.
The realm of light is not an abstraction. It is inseparable from the “kingdom” (basileia) of Christ (verse 13; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 5:5).
The transition from the power of darkness to the realm of light is accomplished in the forgiveness of sins (verse 14). (At this point a few manuscripts, the Clementine Vulgate, and the King James Version speak of Christ’s blood.) In describing this transition from darkness to light Paul immediately goes to Christology, because the realm of light is “the kingdom of the Son of His love” (verse 13; Ephesians 5:5).
In the development of this Christology, the Apostle especially has recourse to the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament (cf. Proverbs 8; Job 28, Sirach 24; Wisdom of Solomon 7:21-30; 9:1-4), taking care to identify Jesus Christ as God’s eternal Wisdom.
All wisdom, in short, is contained in Christ (2:3), who is the image (eikon) of God (verse 15; 3:10), the Head (Verse 7; 2:19), containing the fullness (pleroma) (verse 19; 2:10). In all of this discussion we detect the pattern of the Old Testament Wisdom books, and it is also possible that Paul is citing a hymn already well known to the Colossians.
Echoing Wisdom 7:26), Paul says that Christ is the ikon of the invisible God (verse 15; 1 Corinthians 11:7; 2 Corinthians 4:4; cf. Hebrews 1:3).
The reference to Christ as the prototokos pases ktiseos (literally “first born of all Creation”) shows that the expression has in mind, not only the eternal, uncreated Word of God, but also His incarnation in the created order. He is the “new man” (3:10).
Not long before writing to the Colossians about Christ as “ikon” and “first born,” he had juxtaposed these ideas in his Epistle to the Romans (8:29).
Paul insists that Christ’s priority in Creation is radical, which is to say that absolutely nothing, not even the invisible angels, have priority to Him (verse 16). As creatures of God, their very existence depends on Christ, because God has no relationship to the created order except in His Son, who has assumed flesh. All things were created through and for Him, because He is the very coherence of all created being (verse 17).
From this Christological consideration, Paul proceeds directly to write of the Church. If Christ has priority in all things, then this is certainly true of the Church, of which He is the Head (verse 18). This headship He holds as “firstborn from the dead.” That is to say, the preeminence of Christ refers not only the role of God’s eternal Word in the very act of Creation, but also to the transformation of the whole created order through the power of His Resurrection. It is through the new life of the resurrected body of Jesus Christ that God’s renewing, transforming energies permeate all created things.
Shortly after the composition of this epistle, Paul would again refer to Christ’s preeminence by reason of His Resurrection (Acts 26:33).
Wednesday, May 4
Colossians 1:19-29: The Wisdom literature of the Old Testament (e.g. Wisdom 1:7) teaches that God’s Wisdom permeates the entire created order. This total permeation, this “fullness” (pleroma), says St. Paul abides in (katoikesa) Christ (verse 19). The redemptive work of Jesus Christ, including the shedding of His blood (verse 20) and His Resurrection from the dead (verse 18), affects the entire cosmos. He alone is the world’s mediating link with God; there are no other intermediaries.
Because man’s fall alienated the full created order from God (verse 20; Romans 8:19-23), the reconciliation wrought by Christ pertains to that entire order of Creation.
All of us, prior to our coming to Christ, were alienated from God, and this alienation included not only our ontological state, but also the sinful nature of our actual deeds (verse 21).
“Yet now” we have been reconciled and are presented to God, “holy and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” The basis for this reconciliation is the death of Jesus on the Cross, the sacrifice of His very body (verse 22; cf. Ephesians 1:4).
There is nothing automatic or predetermined about this reconciliation, nonetheless. It demands of believers that they “continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (verse 23). Indeed, it was in the hope of preventing such a defection among the Colossians that Paul wrote this epistle. If real defection from the Christian faith were intrinsically impossible, there was no need for Paul to write any of his epistles!
Paul’s entire ministry was devoted, in fact, to this proclamation of what God has wrought in Christ. And, if Paul suffered as a result of this ministry, his sufferings took their place with the sufferings of Christ Himself, because he suffered for the sake of the Church, as did Jesus (verse 24).
Paul had earlier written of this close association between the apostolic ministerial experience and the Passion of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:14-16; 2 Corinthians 1:5-7; cf. Acts 5:40-42).
Thus, “to fulfill (plerosai) the word of God” (verse 25) means “to fill up (antanaplero) . . . what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” If this is something that Paul experiences in his own flesh, it is for the sake of Christ’s body, “which is the church” (verse 24). It was for the sake of this latter body that Christ died “in the body of His flesh” (verse 22).
The “mystery” proclaimed by Paul is the destiny of the world itself, unknown until revealed to the Church. This hidden mystery is the calling of the nations (ethnesin) to share in the glory of God (verse 26).
This glory is already present in hope, because the risen Christ abides in His saints. The final revelation will be the unveiling of this hidden presence (verse 27).
This mystery is not secret in the sense of being reserved for a few chosen initiates. It is, rather, the common doctrine handed down in the Church as a public record, available to “every man” (three times in verse 28).
Paul’s struggle (agonizomenos in verse 29; agoni in 2:1) for this cause involves more than his human effort. He is sustained, rather, by God’s “energy energizing” him “in might” (energeian . . . energoumenen . . . en dynamei).
Ascension Thursday, May 5
Psalm 47 (Greek & Latin 46): Its eternal, “heavenly” character is an essential and defining feature of the priesthood of Christ our Lord. According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, indeed, “if He were on earth He would not be a priest” (8:4). We have been redeemed and justified by Jesus, our high priest, not only by the shedding of His blood, but also by the power of His glorification over death, because He “was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the Cross, by which He ransomed us and paid the purchase of our souls, was completed, fulfilled, brought to perfection by His resurrection and entrance into the heavenly holy of holies, that place “within the veil, whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedech” (Hebrews 6:20).
The ascension of Christ is not, then, an afterthought, a sort of postlude to salvation. It is not merely an appropriate but optional parade celebrated in consequence of the victory. It is an integral part of the triumph itself; or more properly, it is the crowning moment of the Lord’s priestly offering. The Lord’s ascension is a ritus, a liturgical ritual.
In this respect the Epistle to the Hebrews contrasts the earthly tabernacle of the Old Testament, the scene of the Mosaic sacrifices, with the eternal tabernacle of heaven, consecrated by the glorification of Jesus: “But Christ being come an high priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (9:11f).
This ascension of Christ into glory is likewise the object of biblical prophecy, especially in several places in the Book of Psalms. One of the more notable places is Psalm 47: “God has ascended with jubilation, the Lord with the sound of the trumpet. Oh sing to our God, sing! Sing to our King, sing!” This is an invitatory to us on earth, a summons to join our voices in jubilation with the angels on high. The ascension of Christ is the event where heaven and earth are joined forever.
David’s taking of the ark of the covenant into the holy city may be seen as a figure and foretype of the Lord’s entry into the heavenly Jerusalem, and that long distant day was likewise marked with the rapture of happiness at God’s approach: “And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and the sound of the trumpet” (2 Samuel 6:14f). Our psalm calls for similar marks of celebration at the coming of Christ into the holy city on high: “Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the Lord most high is awesome; He is the great King over all the earth.”
What the Old Testament prophesied in narrative and psalm came finally to pass when God “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 2:20f).
Our psalm of the ascension, therefore, sends forth its invitation to all the peoples of the earth. By reason of His glorification, all of history and all of culture belong to Christ. All nations are summoned before His throne, to share His exaltation: “God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the peoples are gathered together with the God of Abraham. For all the strong ones of the earth belong to God; they are greatly exalted.”
Friday, May 6
Colossians 2:1-10: Christ’s headship over Creation is radical and total. The human race has no other mediation with God. This is Paul’s answer to those who teach of the veneration of the angels as cosmic intermediaries.
This is the argument that Paul makes, after he brings the strictly doctrinal opening of this epistle to an end with verse 3. In this verse he speaks of Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (cf. also 1:27; 1 Corinthians1:24,30), an expression perhaps derived from Isaiah 45:3 (“I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name”) and Proverbs 2:3-5 (“if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God”).
When the Church’s earliest creedal formulas interpreted the saving work of Jesus Christ “according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), this expression was understood to embrace all of the Old Testament, including the Ketubim, or “Writings,” that third part of the Hebrew Scriptures in which we find the Wisdom books. The doctrinal challenge facing the Church at Colossae furnished the providential occasion for the Apostle Paul to explore the relationship of Christ to the Bible’s Wisdom literature.
Much of the apostolic writings (another name for the New Testament) is devoted to Christ as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The Epistle to the Colossians is one of those places more dominantly preoccupied by the theme of Christ as the fulfillment of the Bible’s Wisdom books.
Having established the doctrinal basis for doing so, Paul now directs his attention to the heretical teaching to which the believers at Colossae had been exposed (2:4—3:4).
The worst feature of these heresies, says he, is that they sound attractive (pithanologia —verse 4). Long ago, immediately following his failure to reach most of the philosophers who heard him in Athens (cf. Acts 17:22-34), Paul had resolved not to engage in fine-sounding rhetoric in the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20—2:5). Paul yet adheres to that policy. Otherwise there is simply too much danger of a deceptive message that merely sounded erudite (verse 8).
The Colossians, in order to avoid the false teachings prevalent in their area, must steadfastly adhere to what they have “received” (parelabete —verse 6; cf. Galatians 1:9; Philippians 4:9; 1 Corinthians 11:23) and “learned” (edidachthete —verse 7). We observe in this admonition that the proper safeguard against heresy is the inherited tradition of the apostolic teaching mission. The Christ that the Colossians have already “received” is the Christ to whom they must adhere.
This traditional teaching of the Church is contrasted with the mere traditions of men, which Paul describes as “philosophy” (verse 8, the only occasion on which that word occurs in the New Testament).
The “fullness of the Godhead” dwells in Christ in a bodily way, which is to say that God’s eternal Wisdom is identical with the person of Jesus Christ (verse 9), the literal embodiment of God’s Word.
The Christian’s adherence to Christ is to be accomplished with “thanksgiving” (eucharistia —verse 7), which is a virtual sub-theme of this epistle (cf. 1:12; 3:15,17; 4:2).
Because of the greater length of these Daily Reflections, the selection for Saturday of this week will be posted on Saturday, along with the Reflections for next week.