A Waterfall of Graces
- Reading I: Ephesians 1:1-10
- Resp. Psalm: Psalm 98:1,5-6
- Gospel Reading: Luke 11:47-54
Right at the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explodes with a blessing, a berakah, to God who, he writes "has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavens in Christ." (v. 3). These spiritual blessings he enumerates throughout this long explosion of grateful joy:1
- being chosen ("us") to be holy and blameless before Him (v.4)
- being predestined to be God’s children through Christ (v.5-6a)
- being graced by God in Christ (His Beloved) in the redemption through His blood (6b-8)
- having received the revelation of His plan of salvation: to recapitulate all things in Christ (vv.9-10)
- that the Jews were privileged to be the first to have hoped in Christ (vv. 11-12)
- that the Gentiles (the Ephesians in particular) have received the Gospel and been sealed by the Holy Spirit (vv. 13-14)
Note that the blessing is Trinitarian in structure, mentioning the Father, the Beloved (Son) and the Holy Spirit. The Jewish berakah is addressed to Adonai, "Blessed be the Lord." Paul has transformed this blessing into a recitation of the "gifts lavished upon us" in the work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Verses 4-5 is has become the basis of doctrines of predestination that even Paul may not even have imagined. Some people would think that these verses mean to convey the image of a God who looks into the future and picks certain men and women to be His children while excluding the rest. The problem with this image is that in God there is no future as there is no past. In Him, there is only the NOW. Hence, the question "Did God choose me? To where am I predestined, heaven or hell?" shouldn’t even be asked. Paul was actually looking at his situation and the situation of all Christians, at how much grace they have received from God and thereby concludes that all these have been decided by God EVEN BEFORE any of them were born or created. The predestination in these verses then is RETROSPECTIVE rather than PROSPECTIVE, from the point of view of the Christian who is conscious of God’s grace, and not from that of a God imagined to be punitive. It is like the love affair of two persons who have been married to one another for seventy-five years: they gaze at each other with awe and ask how it has been possible that they stayed together while they’ve seen other marriages fall apart. One of them might even conclude: "From all eternity, we were made for each other."
From verse 6b-14, Paul enumerates the graces "by which He has graced us in Christ." The structure of these verses is clearly marked out by the words "redemption" (vv. 7.14) and the relative pronoun "in whom" (vv. 7.11.13bis; "whom" refers to "the Beloved" [v.6])."
The grace of the redemption through blood is foremost in Paul’s mind, the sacrifice of Christ by which the forgiveness of sins is effected. Following this is the revelation of God’s plan of salvation. The "mystery" of God’s will is one of the favorite topics of Paul (Romans 11:25,1 Cor. 2:1; 1 Corinthians 15:51, Ephesians 1:9,3:3, 6:19; Colossians 1:26,4:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Timothy 3:9,3:16). It is the mystery that remained hidden from of old but is now revealed to Christians (Colossians 1:26) through the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. Ephesians 6:19). That mystery is that not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles are included in God’s plan of salvation, to make a new man in Christ by joining both Jews and Gentiles to Him "where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian nor Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ who is all and in all (Colossians 3:11)." Here, Paul underlines the cosmic dimension of this mystery: the recapitulation of all things in heaven and on earth in Christ.
Paul also expresses gratitude that the Jews were privileged to have been the first to hope in Christ. In Romans 9-11, he expresses the hope that the Jews will once more be restored in their place under the headship of Christ. In Paul’s words, to be grafted (Romans 11:23) back to the tree from which they’ve fallen.
Finally, Paul expresses his gratitude for the Ephesians in particular and the Gentiles who have received the word of the Gospel and who "have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promises, the pledge of our inheritance." The gift of the Holy Spirit is mentioned last coinciding with the moment of baptism when the Christian is anointed with the Spirit and sealed for salvation (cf. Ephesians 4:30; 2 Corinthians 1:22). Interesting is the use of the word "arrabwn", "pledge". The idea is that the Holy Spirit is the downpayment for the Christian’s salvation.
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