As we embark upon the second chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, it will be good this week to consider two very important cross-references, one in the Gospel of Luke and one in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, because our understanding of the human condition and of our Creator’s active, personal love is likely to deepen by doing so.
And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Verses 1-3) The great passage which expands upon this is Romans 5:12-19. (Galatians 5:19-21 underscores what Paul is describing in Romans 5, with specific examples.)
Peter Williamson comments, “Turning his attention to his Gentile readers, Paul makes a surprising assertion: ‘You were dead.’….’All of us once lived among them in the desires of our flesh, following the wishes of the flesh and the impulses.’ Here Paul refers to fallen human nature in its condition of disordered desires and thoughts. Some people think that ‘the flesh’ refers exclusively to bodily urges–above all, sexual desire–but that is not Scripture’s view. The flesh includes our minds, which are also subject to disordered ‘impulses,’ such as pride, envy or greed…” and these are among those things listed in the Galatians 5 passage, mentioned above. “The phrase ‘children of wrath’ is a Semitic idiom (like ‘sons of disobedience’ in the previous verse) that means ‘those who are headed for divine judgment.’ The word ‘wrath’ occurs fairly frequently in the Bible. Sometimes it refers to human anger, but more often it refers to God’s condemnation and punishment of wrongdoing. It is a mistake to think of God’s wrath too anthropomorphically, as though God was having an outburst of temper. In Scripture, God’s wrath is a manifestation of His holiness and is always just. This fact can actually make the wrath of God a comforting doctrine, because it is a way to describe God’s unalterable opposition to evil.” (PSW, pp. 56-58)
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…(verses 4, 5) The wonderful parable of Jesus found in Luke 15:11-32 is well worth pondering in light of these first verses of Ephesians 2. St. Paul would have become aware, early in his conversion, of the great parables kept alive by the Apostles’ teachings; one would suppose that this particular parable is the one he had in mind when he used the powerful words, “you were dead,” and “even when we were dead.”
Something else to ponder: …the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience: “This refers to the devil, whom Paul understands to exercise a power in the ‘air,’ that is, above the sphere of human activity but below God’s supreme power in heaven. Perhaps it also connotes the idea of an evil social atmosphere.” (PSW, p.57) To what extent does this seem to describe the atmosphere in which we live and move and have our being today?
* * * * * *
As you consider this month which verse or verses you might try to memorize in Ephesians 2, the following passage from Fr. George Rutler in his biography of St. John Vianney can be an encouragement: “There still are some pedagogues in our own day who would fault Vianney for requiring the young to memorize prayers, lists of virtues, and hymns. But these are the same experts who have given the Church a generation of breathtaking illiteracy. Long after the Cure died, the children grown old and scattered were still saying the prayers on a hundred hills. Anything worth the heart’s attention is worth learning by heart.” (The Cure D’Ars Today, p.154)