|SUNDAY HOMILIES FOR YEAR B|
|By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp|
|Homily for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Epistle|
Gentiles of a New Order
|Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15||Ephesians 4:17, 20-24||John 6:24-35|
Today's 2nd reading from Ephesians 4:17-24 contains so much negative belief about Gentiles that we had to skip verses 18-19 to reduce the shock. What these two verses say about Gentiles is this:
These are strong views to hold about the entire non-Jewish humanity, since Gentiles simply meant non-Jews. Is it true that all non-Jews, by the natural fact of not being born Jewish, are automatically "darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God" and that they have "abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity?" That would be contrary to the central teachings of the Bible and the Church. Remember Peter's teaching that "God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:34-35). Remember Paul's teaching that "what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them" (Romans 1:19). How then do we understand the derogative view of Gentiles in Ephesians 4?
The writer of Ephesians actually uses the term "Gentiles" in two different senses. Firstly, there is the Gentiles of the first order. These are simply ethnic non-Jews. Ephesians refers to them as "Gentiles by birth" or "Gentiles in the flesh." In fact the people of Ephesus to whom this Epistle is addressed are Gentiles in this sense, that is non-Jews.
This category of Gentiles was abolished by Christ. Christ abolished the Jew-Gentile divide and made both groups into one.
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us (Ephesians 2:14)... That is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Ephesians 3:6).
Henceforth, "there is no longer Jew or Greek ... for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
Ephesians also uses the word "Gentiles" in a different sense, a spiritual sense, a kind of second order Gentiles. You can call it Gentiles by choice. These are people, Jews and Gentiles by birth - it makes no difference, who have "lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity". (Ephesians 4:19). These are spiritual Gentiles by choice because Paul warns his readers not to choose to be like them. "Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds" (Ephesians 4:17).
Paul tells us how these Gentiles of the new order got themselves into their present predicament. "They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart" (Eph 4:18). Ignorance here is the failure to update our knowledge of God and His will for us. Hardness of heart is the refusal to live up to the will of God that we know. These are the two things can take us back to the abominable state of being new order Gentiles, irrespective of our natural and spiritual patrimony.
Paul goes on to point out the way to overcome these two mortal dangers in the life of the believer. To overcome ignorance we need to "study Christ" and discover the truth which is in Jesus. "That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus" (Ephesians 4:20-21). How do we study Christ? Above all, it is by studying the Word of God. As St Jerome said, "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." To overcome hardness of heart we need to be not hearers only but doers of the Word of God. This is how "to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24).
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