Jesus' selfish love.
Once, while preaching on this text to schoolchildren, I asked if anyone knew what "handiwork" was. One girl thought it meant taking out the garbage. After I got her on track, she said that handiwork was like a sweater she had just knitted and was very proud of. She was thrilled to think of herself as one of God's sweaters--in fact this revelation makes us far greater than one of God's sweaters. The magnitude and excellence of what God has given us in Christ is breathtaking. God has already raised us up with Christ Jesus and has placed us with him at God's right hand. Even now God is displaying us in the heavens as God's handiwork.
The passage's many references to Christ in the above text imply that the grace given is not just a gift but a gift that relates us to Christ and conforms us to the image of Christ. Saint Paul also is trying to tell us that grace makes us into an adopted Jesus. "Adopted" here does not have a pejorative connotation. Paul simply wants to differentiate our sonship from that of Jesus' in that ours came about in time, not from all eternity. In other words, through grace we become in God's eyes his beloved, his Jesus! When we pray we can address God as "Abba," a term that only Jesus could use (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15). We can even dare to say to God, "Look at me, Abba, I am your Jesus."
Galatians, chapters three and four, provides much additional light on sanctifying grace and its product: divinization in Christ. "Each one of you is a son of God, because of your faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus."
The figure of clothing is very apt here in leading us into a deeper understanding of the truth about sanctifying grace. The truth is startling: "You have clothed yourselves with him," meaning you have put on Christ, you have become Christ. In other passages, like Colossians 3:10-12, where Paul uses this figure, the meaning is that we must put on the virtues of Christ. Here in Galatians three the meaning is more in the essential order and much deeper. The real proof of this is: "There does not exist . . . male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus."
Today this text is frequently used to teach that essential equality exists in the church between men and women. However true that thesis might be, I don't think that Paul is teaching that truth in this passage. If that's what he meant, he would have written: "All are one." All are one would mean that no distinction can be made between members of the body. All are one in Christ Jesus means that no distinction can be made between members of the body and Christ Jesus. This is revelation of the highest order.
What a comforting thought when we ponder our relationship with God, especially at times when God seems distant. God cannot but love us because as long as we are in Christ Jesus no distinction can be made between him and us. The revelation in these passages is almost too good to be true. Our unity with Christ and one another is also taught by Paul using the figure of the body. To my mind the body figure is the greatest of all the analogies used in the Bible. While the body is used by Paul several times, for our purposes the best reference is: "Wives should be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord.... Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church.... Husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. Observe that no one ever hates his own flesh; no, he nourishes it and takes care of it as Christ cares for the church--for we are members of his body" (Eph. 5:22-30).
This text also contains high revelation, but it currently suffers low esteem because of the first sentence. The true meaning of "wives should be submissive to their husbands" is extremely moot and controversial today. Are we to understand these words literally and in a normative way, or is Paul simply reflecting the mentality and culture of his time and place?
Submission, however, whether normative or culturally determined, is not the major point of the text in question. The major point here is that Christ's love for us is a selfish love in that he loves us as self. He loves the church as self. He loves me as self. That is news too good to be true! Just as God can't differentiate between us and Jesus, Jesus can't differentiate between us and himself because we are his body. As long as we are in Christ, he cannot but love us because he loves himself.
While the above text is explicitly directed to spouses, it is implicitly directed to all members of the church. I can add a personal illustration of the analogy of body. Six years ago I suffered one of the worst traumas of my life. I was "chef of the day," preparing a Christmas dinner of wild geese for some visiting friars from other houses as well as members of the Dominican priory in Madison, Wisconsin. Just before dinner, as I was sharpening the carving knife, disaster struck. The knife skipped out of the V-shaped sharpening rod and cut across my right hand. The device was without the usual instruction notes as I had bought it at a garage sale-only at that moment did it dawn on me that the unused wooden dowel was for protection of the holding hand. I knew immediately that I was in trouble because there was a lot of blood, and two of my fingers were dangling and totally unresponsive to my will.
My left hand immediately and lovingly offered to help the bleeding right hand. Help was promptly accepted. Then the left hand, full of tender compassion, wrapped a dish towel tightly around the right hand to prevent further bleeding--I honestly think that the right hand would have died on the way to the hospital if the left hand had been unwilling to help.
Of course, a callous response such as, "What, you need help again? I helped you last week," was out of the question because self-love was operative--the left hand perceived the right hand as self!
They say every analogy eventually limps--certainly this one does when one considers who committed the crime. I was impressed with the right hand's immediate acceptance of the offer of help. Perhaps it understood that the injury was unintentional--as are a good number of self-inflicted wounds in the Body of Christ. Ephesians five provides us with help as we try day by day to imitate the love and compassion of Christ. If only we could perceive others as Christ perceives us, as he perceives our brothers and sisters as self.
Mother Teresa was often quoted as saying that if it were not for the fact that she saw Christ in those to whom she ministered, she would be incapable of serving them. I think she was really expressing the ideas from Ephesians five. Sometimes the image of Christ is visible in the faces of our brothers and sisters. I saw him recently in the faces of the poor of Central America; although they were physically needy, their faces shone with the Lord's glory. Sometimes, however, the image of Christ in others lies hidden from our eyes. It is then that we need to invoke the power of these powerful revelatory texts. It is then that we need to call upon our faith that all who are in Christ Jesus share in his splendor and glory, whether visible or not.
Saint Catherine of Siena describes in her Dialogues a vision she once had of the beauty of someone with the least degree of sanctifying grace. The beauty was overwhelming. She confessed that she was tempted to bow down and adore the dazzlingly beautiful creature.
If only we could see more of the beauty hidden within our sisters and brothers--our church and our world would be far different than they are now. When Mother Teresa said that she saw Christ in those she served, I'm sure that sometimes she either had that special gift of Saint Catherine or had to rely on the eyes of faith. The bottom line is that we are called to love and serve our sisters and brothers. The texts of Saint Paul make the task easier.
By Father David Delich, O.P., a member of the Chicago Dominican Provincial staff, who preaches on the Internet at <www.op.org>.
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|Title Annotation:||explication of text from the New Testament book of Ephesians|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1998|
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