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16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 18 July 2010

Broken to be a blessing

Reading
Colossians 1.15-28

Sometimes, you read a verse of scripture and you think, Whaaat? What on earth could that mean? There was one of those verses in today’s reading from Colossians chapter 1. It’s verse 24; perhaps it made you wonder too. Let’s hear it again. St Paul says:

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

Paul actually says, ‘in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions…’

Hang on, I thought, the first time I read that years ago. Didn’t Jesus die for the whole world on the cross? Didn’t he bear our sins on the cross? Wasn’t it a ‘perfect sacrifice’ for sin? How could there be anything ‘lacking in his afflictions’? Has Paul gone nuts? Perhaps he has! Read a few verses earlier, and you’ll see that Paul says this:

through [Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Here, Paul says that on the cross God reconciled all things everywhere to himself through Jesus. Because of Jesus, we are at peace with God. We’re not partly at peace, we’re not half-reconciled to God. We are wholly at peace with God, we are fully reconciled, we are God’s beloved sons and daughters, we have a place in God’s loving heart. We are fully alive, and why? Because we been drawn into the grace-full, eternal, loving dance of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Notice that all these things are true whether or not we feel them to be true. So what on earth could possibly be ‘“lacking” in Christ’s afflictions’?

Let’s hold that question, while we look at something we’ll be doing soon.
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12th Sunday of Ordinary Time (20 June 2010)

One in Christ: when night ends and day begins


Readings
Galatians 3.23-29
Luke 8.26-39

Let’s recap as to where we are on our journey through Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Two thousand years ago, Galatia was a Roman territory in the country we know as Turkey. People had come to Galatia, who were wanting the Galatian believers to obey the Jewish laws like eating only certain foods, being circumcised and keeping the Sabbath. The Apostle Paul would have absolutely none of it. Not a bar of it!

As a young man, Paul had really loved the Old Testament law. But Paul discovered that the law he loved so much was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, now his Lord and Saviour.

Now the centre of Paul’s life was Jesus and not the law.

The people who wanted to bring in obedience to the law wanted to do it as a sign of the purity of the Christian community, so they could know who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. Those who obey the law are ‘in’; those who disobey are ‘out’. You can see that under the law, Jesus himself would be ‘out’. Why? He died a criminal’s death as a law-breaker.

Law brings clear division; the gospel brings a new people into being, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, law-keepers and law-breakers.

Greek philosophy was good at making divisions too. Greek philosophers such as Socrates and Plato used to give thanks

that I was born a human being, not a beast;
a man and not a woman;
thirdly, a Greek and not barbarian.

Not to be outdone, in the Jewish cycle of morning prayers the men prayed:

Blessed be He that He did not make me a Gentile;
blessed be He that He did not make me a slave;
blessed be He that He did not make me a woman.

All this would have been the very air that Paul breathed as he was growing up. Saying the daily prayers, reading the philosophers, he was reminded of his privileged position as a Jew; as a man; and as a Roman citizen who breathed the fresh air of freedom.

But since his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul’s theme is unity in Jesus Christ.

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