Adopted and Beloved: Ephesians 1:1-6

thumbnail24Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and who are faithful in Christ Jesus….

At the very beginning of St. Paul’s letter, we Christians living in the twenty-first century might find a question popping up in our minds:  “Why would Paul refer to all of the Christians in that city as saints?  Were those first Christians all living such perfect lives that they could assume themselves quite ready to be canonized?  Isn’t Paul being awfully presumptuous in using such language?”  Look at II Corinthians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, and Acts 9:13, to see how common this word “saints” was in the early years of the Church’s life.  A passage like Romans 8:1-6 can be a great help in understanding why such a descriptive designation is truly an accurate one, when the Church is living the very life of Christ in this world.  The Greek word for saint is hagios meaning sacred, holy, consecrated, set apart.

The Catechism (CCC 823-825) teaches that “The Church…is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy.  This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy,’ loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God…..All the activities of the Church are directed, as toward their end, to the sanctification of men in Christ….The Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real though imperfect….”  (It would be advisable to go to the Catechism and read the complete text every time that I quote it.  It is very rich!)  By the way, for anyone happening upon this study blog who wonders why we use “men” to speak about men and women, know that the Catholic Church in many of its documents has decided to keep the traditional way of referring to human beings, rather than attempting to become gender-specific, or gender-universal, or gender-whatever in the English language.  Catholics don’t have a problem with this decision, really, from what I have experienced in the Church since becoming Catholic nearly eight years ago.  Having come from a mainline denomination, and being influenced by feminist-leaning theologies for a few years, it took me a little while to get over my own obsession with “politically correct” language, but after awhile I discovered it was a relief to just let that go!  The way the Church actually lives out deep respect and honor of women speaks much louder than a few pronouns.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ….

Compare this introductory greeting to Romans 1:7.  In the Catholic Commentary On Sacred Scripture’s Ephesians, by Peter S. Williamson, (which I will be referring to as PSW from this point on) we are informed:  “Among Greek-speaking people in Paul’s day, the common greeting at the beginning of letters was chairein–‘rejoice’–indicating that the sender wished happiness to the recipient.  Paul’s word ‘grace’ (charis) is similar but refers instead to a divine ‘gift’ or ‘favor.’  The common greeting among Jews was shalom, usually translated in English as ‘peace,’ although the Hebrew word has a wider range of meaning,  signifying complete well-being.” (PSW p. 28)

The repeated word, “bless, blessed, blessing” comes from the Greek eulogatos,  from which we derive our word “eulogy,” speaking words of high praise for someone who has recently died.  II Corinthians 1:3-5 helps us connect such high praise with the goodness of God and the comfort He gives.  “Paul says that God has bestowed on us ‘every spiritual…blessing.’  Although these blessings are benefits for the spirit, or inner self–rather than physical or material blessings–the adjective ‘spiritual’ here refers above all to the Holy Spirit through whom the blessings have come to us.” (PSW p.31)  Paul’s speaking of  “the heavenly places”  can be seen also in verses 20 and 21, as well as verse 2:6, which we will expound upon more, when we come to those sections in our study.  Because this was written toward the end of St. Paul’s life  (I will give you a handout discussing why we will assume in this study that the letter is truly Pauline) it is noticeable that, for this apostle, the veil which separates earth from heaven has become quite “thin.”  For him, life is very short and heaven is very close!  Hopefully, we will, in studying this letter, take on such a wonderful mindset ourselves.

….just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him, in love.  He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Be sure to turn to Matthew 25:34 to read the words of Jesus concerning this wonderful fact of God’s eternal plan for our salvation, for our adoption as His truly beloved children.  And it is important to note:  “The liturgy’s use of this text (Eph. 1:3-6, 11-12) for the Immaculate Conception and other Marian feasts is fitting, since Mary experienced the benefits that belong to believers before the rest of us and in a unique way.  Mary was blessed ‘with every spiritual blessing in the heavens’ (1:3).  She was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be ‘holy and without blemish’ before God (1:4) for a very special role….Mary anticipates the cleansing from sin that comes to us through faith and baptism, making us also ‘holy and without blemish’ (1:4; 5:26-27).”  (PSW, pp 36,37)

Galatians 4:1-6 is a beautiful passage expounding upon the meaning of our adoption as heirs to all God wants freely and delightedly to give us.  The CCC 2782-85 is another good passage to deepen our understanding of what this adoption means.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom!  (Luke 12:32)

I hope you are keeping your eyes open for a verse or group of verses to try to memorize from Ephesians 1 this month.  Blessings and Shalom,  JC