31 Jul 2012
Homily for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 29, 2012
By Father J. Daniel Atkins, Holy Family Catholic Church, New Albany, Indiana
On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968, while circling the moom, Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders read to the people of Earth passages from opening chapters of Genesis. Upon finishing Borman said, “We are one hunk of ground, water, air, clouds, floating around in space. From here it really is one world.”
Sisters and brothers, if Frank Borman offered to the people of the world a new physical perspective of earth from his vantage as an astronaut, St. Paul offered to his new converts in Ephesus a fresh spiritual view of the world from his experience of living the Christ-life. In the second reading today we hear him sharing how having the mind of Christ can transform the world.
Before we look at the inner workings of Paul’s ideal Christian community, let’s look at the people to whom Paul was writing and the world in which they lived. The people of Ephesus were part of the Greco-Roman world. It was a world of struggle. The poor struggled just to stay alive. Everyone else struggled either to get to the top or stay at the top. You got to the top by making connections, by doing favors, by putting people in your debt. You stayed at the top by maintaining your status as a person of influence. And of course by repaying those who had helped you get to the top. In this patron-client social system one’s position was never certain and there was the perennial game of making yourself look better by making someone else look bad. It was a world of ruling factions, personal interests, and power plays. It did not make for peaceful living. Assassinations – social and physical – were frequent.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Looking at first century Ephesus, we begin to see how radical St. Paul’s vision of the Christian community is. “Live a life worthy of your calling, with perfect humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another lovingly. Make every effort to preserve the unity which has the Spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force.”
When St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians to humility he is calling them to live a life without constant preoccupations with rights, privileges, or claims. A life which does not look for threat behind every word. In encouraging gentleness Paul would be challenging them to refrain from engaging in unbridled competition for public honor and prestige. When he encourages pa-tience he would mean controlling the cultural tendency to engage in acts of retaliation – spontaneous, unreflexive, emotionally driven responses to provocative situations. Paul knew, as did the Ephesians, that such responses can escalate to hostility, erupt in bloodshed, and result in long-standing blood feuds.
But the key for living in community with the mind of Christ for Paul is “bearing with one an-other through love.” Dr. John Pilch, a scripture scholar of Georgetown University say that, “Love here is not an affection or emo-tion; it is group glue. Love in this culture is the commitment to keep a group together, preserve its unity, and do all to avoid tearing it apart.”
Sisters and brothers, the world today is a world not so different from the first century Ephesus, or the hunk of ground, water, air, clouds, that Frank Borman saw from his space module floating around in space. “We really are one world.” But today, as then, there are forces at work in our world that would tear us apart, that would set us – individuals and nations – against each other. As Christians we can become jungle creatures or we can live a life worthy of our calling. We can be brutal in a life of individualism or we can be strong in a vocation of loving solidarity. For God’s sake and the world’s sake let us live a life worthy of our calling.