Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ephesians 2:1

You were dead in your transgressions and sins . . . . (Ephesians 2:1)

The Greek word St. Paul used for "dead" is νεκρός (nekros). From it, we get the word "necrotic," which means -- dead, as in "without life." In the New Testament, the word also refers to those who are spiritually dead, and unable to recognize God because they have given themselves over to sin. As St. Paul wrote in another epistle, "The wages of sin is death." Or as the Church teaches in #981 of the Catechism: [The Church] has received the keys of the Kingdom of heaven so that, in her, sins may be forgiven through Christ's blood and the Holy Spirit's action. In this Church, the soul dead through sin comes back to life in order to live with Christ, whose grace has saved us. (my emphasis)

If the text in Ephesians 2 stopped here, all of us would be left without hope. But Paul's argument continues to what is my favorite verse in this chapter -- verse 4. We'll talk more about that later. For now, though, let's reflect on what it means to be dead to God.

As in physical death, there is nothing a corpse can do to save itself. Poke it with a knife, and it feels nothing. Warn it of danger, and it can never respond. Likewise, from a spiritual perspective, before the Holy Spirit "quickened" us, you and I were dead to God. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes in his Summa Theoligica (volume 5): "Sin is the spiritual death of the soul."

In other words, we could do nothing to save ourselves. Our hearts were callous toward God, seared over as with a hot branding iron. Which is why the Apostle's message of God's mercy is so powerful: But God, being rich in mercy . . . made us alive in Christ (verse 4).

St. Paul, Old Testament scholar as he was, understood the concept of spiritual death from the Prophets. For example, in this passage from Isaiah (Isaiah 59:1-2), God tells Israel He does not hear their prayers because their sins have separated them from Him. In Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:1-14), God gives us a picture of His mercy as he takes dry bones and give them new life.

It's critical to our spiritual maturity to recognize our former "deadness" to God, because our new life in Christ is not about us, our goodness, or anything inherent in us. Nothing we did or could do could bring us new life.

It was all about Jesus -- as it always has been and always will be.

That is why, for example, the prayer to God in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy is so beautiful -- "For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world." For only by God's mercy can anyone be made alive to Christ. As the Lord Jesus said, only by God's mercy can anyone come to salvation -- our family, friends -- the whole world.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What does this passage from St. Paul's letter to the Romans add to your understanding of the text we have been looking at in Ephesians 2:1?

2. We will look at these verses later, but for now, how do these texts add further to your understanding of Ephesians 2:1?

3. As we have seen in earlier studies in Ephesians, we are made children of God at our baptism. How then do you understand Ephesians 2:1 and the rest of this study in light of our baptism into Christ?

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