Saturday, October 29, 2011



Friday Oct. 28 was the feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude. The second reading at mass, from Ephesians, spoke to powerfully me so I want to share with you some ideas about the passage.

The message of the reading for me centers on the Greek word oikos.(house, household); it’s the root of English words such as “economy” and “ecumenical.” The passage from Ephesians contains no less than six words based on the word “oikos.” In the passage that follows I’ve inserted the original Greek word in parentheses next to the appropriate English word.

Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers (paroikoi = outside the household) and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household (oikeioi) of God,
built upon (epoikodomethentes) the foundation of the Apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.
Through him the whole structure (oikodome) is held together
and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord;
in him you also are being built together (oikodomeisthe)
into a dwelling place (katoikterion)of God in the Spirit.

(Ephesians 2, 19-22)

So what’s all this emphasis on the house and the household?

First, in this chapter the writer is celebrating the good news that through baptism the gentiles (the “you” of the first line above) now share in the prerogatives once reserved for the chosen people of Israel. God’s “household” now includes the whole of humankind.

But the image changes quickly and naturally from “household” to “building.” This is where things get interesting for me. Unlike Paul’s image of the church as Christ’s body (I Cor. 12), the image of building brings out the idea that the church must be a carefully planned and structured group deliberately willed by God. It’s not some kind of club that we’ve made up.

The foundation of this building is the teaching and preaching of “the apostles and prophets” (the latter being most likely not Old Testament prophets but the members of the early church who had the gift of prophecy).

The capstone at the top of the building that holds it all together, the point toward which the entire faith is aiming, the climax of the whole enterprise, is Jesus Christ. In the following verse we find that this is not just any sort of building, but “a temple sacred to the Lord.”

Suddenly Christ is no longer the capstone but is rather the whole building into whom we are being built: we are inserted into Christ through baptism, like stones in a temple. This metaphor of a holy temple emphasizes a couple of aspects of church that got pushed into the background after Vatican II, namely the divine and cultic character of our union with Christ.

This reading on the feast of two apostles gave me some good food for thought. I’m not saved as an individual; this is not a solo project concerning only Christ and me. I’m being saved precisely as a members of something larger. Do I see myself as part of this “temple” built on the foundation of the apostles, or do I normally think in terms of my own efforts and God’s personal grace given to me as an individual?

Do I work toward building up this holy temple or do I opt out because the temple is too had to deal with, as source of irritation or even pain because of its human imperfections?

The writer of Ephesians is well aware of the shortcomings of the various church communities, yet insists nevertheless that it is through this katoikterion, this structure, this dwelling place of God, that we are connected with Christ and with one another.

As the Catholic Church in English-speaking countries prepares to introduce some needed changes in the translations of the mass texts in English, it’s a good time to remember that the church is indeed a “temple sacred to the Lord,” and that the sacred services that we celebrate there need to reflect a certain sacred seriousness and reverence, something that has been lost over the years. So as we introduce changes that are intended, in part, to enchance the feeling of sacredness in our central sacred ritual, we need to be patient with the shortcomings of our church -- it may be a sacred dwelling of Christ, but the stones that make it up (including you and me) are often imperfect!

Go back and reread the passage above and ask the Lord to speak to you , too.


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