The Readings for the 18th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Someone on the Vatican Liturgical Commission, Probably
MY PARISH IS CELEBRATING the Solemnity of the Dedication of the Church this Sunday. It’s not the 18th Sunday for me. So, there.
As you know I like to look at the verses that were skipped and see if we can figure out why. In the first reading there was not really anything skipped: the missing verses get used elsewhere and Ecclesiastes 1:2 is being used as an introduction to the Very Goth verses from chapter 2. In the reading from Colossians, though, something was skipped. It might be read as if the missing verses, as a whole, probably made someone a bit squeamish.
Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.Colossians 3:6-8
Because of these the wrath of God is coming.
By these you too once conducted yourselves, when you lived in that way.
But now you must put them all away: anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths.
There’s a double command to stop doing these things. And there’s a notice not only that you (the Colossians) once did those things… but also you “lived that way”. And there’s a list of the things. The NABRE renders the things (in verse 5) as “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry”. The Greek for the first one is “porneia” and it means exactly sexual immorality as you might expect. The words rendered as “impurity“, “passion“, as well as the phrase “evil desire” are also related to sexual lust. With these in mind, “conducted yourselves” and “lived that way” has a whole other meaning for our modern ears, I think. I’m sure this passage made someone a little jumpy.
While Sunday sermons are not that place for specific things like this, Sunday Blogposts are.
The verb in the phrase “lived that way” comes from the same root as “Zoe” which, in most of the NT, is used to refer to the Life that God shares with us. Normal, sinful man does not live a “zoe” but rather shares a “bios” with all living things and he tries to pretend it’s a Zoe. That’s why he eventually dies. Zoe, though – God’s life – is eternal. So, it’s interesting that Paul uses a word that sounds like divine life to indicate the life of sexual sins here. Some of us know from intimate experience how especially sexual sins can literally seem like life – and a very abundant life at that! Our entire Media industry seems devoted to celebrating this misunderstanding of sex. We use the media to deaden our reaction to sin, to hypnotize ourselves into thinking some part of this is normal, some part of this is “really living”. And if you go deep enough, you begin to excuse the other parts as well: I can’t say anything about them because I’m just as… what? Bad? No no no. We’re all equally good! Now we’re really living!
Paul says some of the folks in Colossae used to do all these things – but now, they no longer do. And he commends them to continue to “put off the old man with all his practices”. It was the old man that did these things. WE have moved beyond that now, and Christ is all in all. In other places he says it’s best to not even name those sins that people used to commit.
Our new self (in the Gender Inclusive style) or “the new man” as the Greek says, is Christ himself. I’ve been meditating on the Holy Name recently looking at the Hebrew. The name “yeshua” is the same word as salvation, “yeshua”. So, Jesus’ name is literally salvation. Salvation in Hebrew and in Greek implies being “made whole”. We’re made whole in working out our salvation. Jesus is the fullness of humanity and when we put on “the New Man” we become more than we were in terms of virtue and health, and less than we were in terms of sin and disorder. We find in Messiah our Zoe instead of our old, earthly way of living.
Yet this is not an all at once kind of thing. Only when Christ – our Life – appears, then we shall know ourselves fully. It’s a process. As the Didache says – “do what you can”. It’s a growth.
However it is a timely thing. Paul notes the “the wrath of God is coming.” And Jesus says this as well in his Parable of the Barns. We should not take the Didache’s advice to “do what you can” as permission to do nothing. We start where we are and then we grow into our full stature. Even that is in God’s time, not ours. The only call is to more forward, not to stagnate.