Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year B)

What is the urgency of reconciliation as the summation of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

"Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?" - Numbers 21:5 (Public domain image; licensed under CC0)

March 11, 2018

Second Reading
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Commentary on Ephesians 2:1-10

What is the urgency of reconciliation as the summation of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Whether Ephesians was authored by Paul or his disciple, the practical theological implications of the letter cannot be doubted. The message of the entire letter revolves around reconciliation of the human family under the authority of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:20-23). In Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul portrays a picture of the old era when Gentiles had not yet known God or their life before Jesus Christ. Paul raises this life before Christ, as a way of opening readers to the theological and faith formation implications of life after resurrection; a life whose focus is on the gospel of salvation which beckons people to inclusion and unity.

The picture for readers is to imagine a building contractor whose responsibility is to clear the area of dirty materials before even laying a foundation for a large house with many office spaces. In this new house constructed by God, Paul invites all people, Jews and Gentiles, to be part of the house in which God, Son, and the Holy Spirit dwells. In this household, humanity is invited to know their best gift, talent, and skill and to apply these skills in such a way that they fully function according to their God given gifts. Knowing one’s gift is a liberating way to live, work, and function alongside others in a way that builds God’s Kingdom here on earth (verse.10). The message of the letter is that peace and harmony is possible when people cease to live in alienation. Reading Ephesians 2:1-10 is like a commentary of Colossians 1:1-20 where the Christ event is believed to be God’s eschatological vision of uniting “all things” in cosmic harmony, of which the “Trinitarian life,” is possible (Ephesians 1:10).

In a world torn apart by violence, HIV/AIDS, terrorism, theological differences, church declining, poverty, hate, hunger, and human sexuality, a rereading and interpretation of Ephesians is urgently needed. The message of this chapter brings into perspective the importance of Christians to remain God’s mission and refuse to allow differences to obstruct them from participating in the vision of the missio dei. Thus, we as readers of this letter are spiritually and faithfully called to discern the right question in the midst of so many global questions. It is not just a question of God’s mission but also to discern the role and function of the church as the physical manifestation of God’s spirit where all believers use their spiritual giftedness in the building of the church of the body of Christ.

The implications of Paul’s message rests on the understanding that God’s greatness is seen in the unity and working together of difference brought together by the power of the resurrection (Ephesians 1:22-23). Thus, Ephesians 2:1-10 lays the theological foundation of the letter because readers are faced with the power that draws them into the heart of God’s love, and consequently into reconciliation with others. The faithful death and resurrection of Jesus comes full circle in this passage as the power of God to reverse human alienation in order to bring about reconciliation and peace between Jews and Gentiles.

The function of the cross was to tear down walls of alienation which divided nations and peoples of the world, and brought into effect a new humanity whose identity is in Christ (Ephesians 2:6-17, see also 2:14-15). The mystery of the passage centers on the formation of a new humanity who are identified as God’s chosen people. In Romans, Paul refers to this new humanity as the “Israel of God,” or a living temple in which God’s spirit dwells.

What this passage reveals is the central role of the cross or the Christ event. Jesus Christ becomes the means through which the unity of “all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth,” are made possible (Ephesians 1:10). The global church is longing for this mysterious cosmic reconciliation of all peoples and nations. If this is the case, we can call Ephesians the letter of reconciliation, whose main focus is to invite the church to exemplify unity in the midst of diversity.

The challenge of hearing Ephesians is that churches in the 21st-century seem to be reversing the message of unity because walls of hostility are being erected around issues of human sexuality, poverty, hunger, and HIV/AIDS. Theologically, the church is challenged to rethink its evolving identity as the people of God where individuals can use their spiritual gifts to build bridges of unity with others. Second, this passage invites people to know and identify their God given place in the ecclesial context and see their function within the entire faith community.

The church can help people know their place in the new creation and empower them to manifest their gifts and talents in the transformation of the world. Each Christian believer has to realize that God has a role for them to play, and if one fails to function in their role, somethings may not be done. In essence, Ephesians calls all people, nations, women, men, youth, and adults to find their place in God’s mission.

The human response is deeply needed at the end of the letter because Paul reminds readers that, “For by grace you have been saved by faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any person should boast.” The intelligence and gifts we have are all from God, but humanity has to know the gifts and be able use the gifts for the sake of God’s mission (Ephesians 2:10).