A reflection by Fr. Jack Lynch, SFM, on Ephesians 2.12 and Luke 12.35
Both readings are a call to conversion. As the liturgical year winds down, we hear the words of Jesus to keep our lamps burning ready and belts around our waist ready to follow the word of God.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul shows his appreciation of how Jesus so often challenged the legal and cultural barriers and boundaries. In today’s reading the phrases, ‘broken down the dividing wall’ and ‘destroying the hostility’ reflect that attitude.
He says that those who were far off have been brought near. Isaiah had heard God say, “Peace, peace to the far, and to the near” (Isaiah 57:19). When the Rabbis spoke about accepting a convert into Judaism, they said that the convert had been brought near.
Paul paints a picture from the experience of the Temple which would be especially vivid to a Jew. The Temple consisted of a series of courts, each one a little higher than the one that went before, with the Temple itself in the innermost of the courts. First there was the Court of the Gentiles; then the Court of the Women; then the Court of the Israelites; then the Court of the Priests; and finally the Holy Place itself.
Only into the first of them could a Gentile come. Between it and the Court of the Women there was a wall, or rather a kind of screen of marble. Paul says that the middle wall of the barrier between the two courts has been torn down. Paul well knew that barrier, for we recall his arrest at Jerusalem in Acts 21, which led to his final imprisonment and death, it was due to the fact that he had been wrongly accused of bringing Trophimus, an Ephesian Gentile, into the Temple beyond the barrier.
The ancient world had its barriers. So too, has our modern world middle walls of partition. Paul goes on to say that in Christ these barriers should come down. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “Christ is the end of the law”. Jesus ended legalism as a principle of religion. In its place he put love.
We recall Jesus says clearly and directly, “My Father is still working and I also am working”. In effect, Jesus is telling them and teaching us that God is not tied down, restricted or controlled by law or completely legal interpretations often times devoid of compassion. Neither God the Creator nor Jesus the Son obey laws that get in the way of forgiving, healing, and reaching out to the poor and to those who are hurting and suffering, speaking the truth and feeding people.
Jesus came to tell humanity that they cannot earn God’s approbation by keeping the ceremonial law but must accept the forgiveness, the communion and the companionship which God in mercy freely offers all of us.
We must see Jesus as the cornerstone and recall how he met people in the time and place of their seeking, listening to them, feeling their pain and then opening a way forward within his circumstances. Because of Jesus’ attitude to sinners, in welcoming them and eating with them, Jesus gives them the opportunity for repentance in an atmosphere of acceptance. Jesus sees beyond the sins and the condition of sin to always the potential in each and every individual.
Rita Snowden the New Zealander tells a story from World War II. In France, some soldiers with their sergeant brought the body of a dead comrade to a French cemetery to have him buried. The priest told them gently that he was bound to ask if their comrade had been a baptized Roman Catholic. They said that they did not know. The priest said that he was very sorry but in that case he could not permit burial in his churchyard. So the soldiers sadly took their comrade and buried him just outside the fence.
The next day they came back to see that the grave was all right and to their astonishment they could not find it. Search as they might they could find no trace of the freshly dug soil. Bewildered, they were about to leave when the priest came up. He told them that his heart had been troubled because of his refusal to allow their dead comrade to be buried in the churchyard; so, early in the morning, he got out of bed and with his own hands moved the fence to include the body of the soldier who had died.
The rules and the regulations put up the fence; but love moved it. Jesus removed the fences and invites us to do the same as we witness to the reign of God. Today there are all sorts of fences running through the races and people of the world. Modern progress has made the world a neighbourhood and in it we recall that God has called us to witness to the Reign of God. There are walls that divide be it race, class, ideology, or creed we must embrace anew the message of love of the all-inclusive Christ.