Monday, August 17, 2009

Ephesians 2:11-13

Therefore, remember that at one time you, Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision, which is done in the flesh by human hands, were at that time without Christ, alienated from the community of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-13).


The Old Testament Scriptures are incontestable about God's selection of Israel. As early as Genesis, God selected only one man to be the father of the one nation God would call His Chosen People. As a result of God’s choice, only the Jews enjoyed God’s covenants and promises. Non-Jews (Gentiles) were excluded.

It is also incontestable that Israel’s role in salvation history was to be God’s ambassador to the Gentiles, to bring light to people in spiritual darkness, and to teach them about obedience to God’s laws and commandments (for example, see here, here, here and here).

But Israel failed in their calling. Instead of bringing God’s message of obedience and holiness to the nations, they intermarried with the Gentiles and quickly adopted their pagan lifestyles and worship – including temple prostitution and human sacrifice. And because of their sins, God sent His Chosen People into exile to teach them a lesson they would never forget.

And they did not forget.

Never again, after the Babylonian exile, did Jews ever fall into idolatry (for example, see 1 and 2 Maccabees). Never again did they intermarry with non-Jews. Those who did were excommunicated from Israel’s covenants and promises (for example, see here and here).

But the Jews pulled themselves so far away from their Gentile neighbors that they failed, once again, in their mission as evangelists to those nations – so much so that, even as late as the first century, Jews wouldn’t even eat at the same table as Gentiles. That was why the apostles were so shocked that St. Peter actually went into Cornelius’ house and broke bread with him and his family. Indeed, St. Peter would never have committed such a near-blasphemous act if the Lord hadn’t first captured his attention – three times(!) – with that vision of the unclean animals (Acts 10).

It was in this climate of religious pride and exclusiveness that St. Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians: “[You] were at that time without Christ, alienated from the community of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But God . . . .”

I’m learning to love that phrase – "But God." We first ran into it in verse 4, after the section in which St. Paul tells us we were dead in our sins: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us . . . brought us to life with Christ.”

And now, after telling the Gentiles they were without hope and without God, Paul says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.”

We’ll look at that concept more closely next time.

Questions for Reflection:

1. How do you think the Gentiles of Jesus’ day felt when they were ostracized from the table of the Jews? How do you think God felt about that separation?

2. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us our baptized Protestant brethren are part of the Body of Christ (see para 1271 here). How do you think Protestants feel when they want to come to the Eucharistic table of the Lord, but are excluded from it by their Catholic brethren? How do you think God feels about that separation?

3. Since evangelism is such an important mission of the Church, how can we avoid the type of exclusiveness practiced by the Old and New Testament Jews, and bring unity to the Body of Christ to accomplish that evangelistic mission?

2 comments:

Richard Maffeo said...

Joel wrote me -- and I accidentally hit the "reject" button instead of the "publish" button on my moderation page. Joel, I am very sorry. Your comment was especially poignant for me.

Joel said it hurts him and confuses him every time he goes forward for holy communion, but his wife is refused the Eucharist.

Joel, I so very much understand your pain. I have it also, every time -- every time -- my wife is also refused the Eucharist.

Richard Maffeo said...

This is Joel's post:
2) I am left confused and hurt every time; especially when I am told that my wife and I cannot feed the sacrament of our marriage with the Eucharist.