Lectionary Reflection—31 July 2016
Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. Think about the things above and not things on earth. You died, and your life’s hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth, such as sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). The wrath of God is coming upon disobedient people because of these things. You used to live this way, when you were alive to these things. But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. Don’t lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it. In this image there’s neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people.
Last week we saw that Paul was speaking about two different ages—the Old Covenantal Age (made up of the Jewish system) and the New Covenantal Age (made up of the Way of Jesus). Paul didn’t want the Colossians to succumb to the “old ways” because they were only shadows pointing away from themselves to Christ. Here Paul contrasts “things above” with “things on earth” and “the old human nature” with “the new nature.” Because of this, a lot of people misunderstand this passage and an unfortunate duality emerges in their thinking. Some begin to think that “natural” or “physical” things are unholy or not sacred. Others think that the physical life is illusionary and the “real” life if some kind of intangible “spiritual” existence, that the material world is some kind of prison and that ethereal is “real.” Is this what Paul means? I don’t think so.
In his book, Christ of the Celts, John Philip Newell points to another way of understanding Paul. Referencing the 9th century Celtic theologian John Scotus Eriugena, Newell states that we’ve forgotten our true selves. “Christ comes,” he says, “to reawaken us to our true nature” and to “show us…our face, the true face of the human soul.”
Newell goes on to say that Grace, then, isn’t “opposed to our essential nature” nor does it “lead us into another identity.” Grace is given to “reconnect us to our true nature.” He continues:
“…nature and grace are viewed as flowing together from God. They are both sacred gifts. The gift of nature, says Eriugena, is the gift of ‘being’; the gift of grace, on the other hand, is the gift of ‘well-being’. Grace is given to reconnect us to our true nature. At the heart of our being is the image of God, and thus the wisdom of God, the creativity of God, the passions of God, the longings of God. Grace is opposed not to what is deepest in us but to what is false in us. It is given to restore us to the core of our being and to free us from the unnaturalness of what we are doing to one another and to the earth.”
Paul’s point, then, isn’t about contrasting the “physical” with the “spiritual” or the “material” with the “ethereal.” He’s contrasting our deepest selves—our true selves—with our false selves. The things that “belong to the earth” are the things which appeal to our false selves. The things that pit “us” against “them.” The stuff that creates greed and lust and rage and malice and sexism and racism and all the rest. We know things like racism and sexism are learned behaviours and attitudes—they’re “unnatural.” But so are things like rage and greed and lust. While these are part of the human experience, Paul’s telling us that those things aren’t who we really are. They’re an infection, if you will, and when we live in those things, we aren’t being our truest selves, our deepest selves.
Our truest selves—the deep part of us that’s filled with God’s Life and Love—sees all humanity as our sisters and brothers. Our true selves recognizes that our lives should be spent serving each other and creation. That’s the life that Christ lived. When Paul asks us to “think about things above,” that’s what he’s meaning. We’re to think about the “higher” life, the deeper life, of serving God and each other and creation. When our intention is fixated on this we’ll truly see that “Christ is all things and in all people.”
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC