There is an exhortation in Luke’s gospel, words of the Lord Jesus Himself in His explanation of the meaning of the parable of the seed and the sower, in which the first three verses of Ephesians 4 is rooted: And as for (the seed sown in) the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Luke 8:15)
It is worth pondering: How can I hold fast the word of the Lord while interacting with people who are living tepid spiritual lives, or even lives of open moral disobedience to the Church’s teachings? What is this kind of patience supposed to look like in our relationships? What is my own heart-condition? What does my own dance with obedience and patience look like, in reality? Do I allow the Lord to till the soil of my heart, or am I afraid of such an upheaval, afraid of change, afraid that my own weaknesses cannot survive such a tilling action? Am I the good soil, ready for God’s sowing? These are the questions we are asked to confront during Lent. Only when we allow the tilling of the soil to take place will we understand and enter into what St. Paul is teaching us in chapter 4 of Ephesians concerning the proper and powerful use of the gifts of the Spirit which we have all received in abundance at our baptism.
Verse 7 speaks of “the measure of Christ’s gift,” and immediately we are reminded of the remarkable promise of abundance, of a pouring out, of a fullness appropriate to God’s actions (see John 3:34, John 10:10, John 15:11, John 16:24 from last year’s study of John’s gospel). But there is a context in which to understand this promised abundance, a context which goes far beyond a “Jesus and me” mentality, as essential as that individual intimacy is throughout our lives. The Catholic Commentary helps us broaden our understanding: “Every member of the Church has received a gift of grace. The phrase according to the measure of Christ’s gift means that Jesus is the giver and decides the measure and kind of spiritual gifting each person receives. Verses 11-12 make clear that the gifts are not for the benefit of the individual but for the benefit of the Church. The idea is very similar to what Paul writes in Romans 12:6: Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them (see I Corinthians 12:7).”
Williamson goes on to speak about the citing of Psalm 68 in Ephesians 4:8: “Paul edits Psalm 68 slightly…Rather than receiving tribute from His enemies, Christ gives gifts to human beings, gifts of the Holy Spirit. This parallels what St. Peter says at Pentecost: Exalted at the right hand of God, He received the promise of the holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear (Acts 2:33). Paul’s main point is that the risen Jesus is the source of gifts of ministry in the body of Christ.” (PSW, pp.114-115) It would be good to turn to Acts 2:14-18, 33 to keep firmly in mind just how Christ’s Church was originally established, and the means by which she continues to grow and be nurtured even in the twenty-first century.
Another good study tool is a look at the Catechism, CCC 739, 767-768 and CCC 2003-2004. Vatican II’s Decree On the Apostolate of Lay People (Apostolicam Actuositatem) cites Acts 11:19-21, Acts 18:26, Romans 16:1-16, and Philippians 4:3 as scriptural examples which underscore the essential importance of every Christian using fruitfully his or her charisms, or spiritual gifts, for the spread of the Gospel of Christ. To Ponder: Have you become aware of your own individual charism(s) and how to use your gift(s) in service and happy obedience to Christ?
I am preparing a handout for the group who meets in Heffernan Hall with me on Wednesday, March 19, of the first three chapters of the above-cited Vatican II document. I hope to see many of you there for an hour or so of sharing of our thoughts. JC