The Call to Be Imitators
of God and to Walk in Love
General Audience, August 4, 1982
1. During our talk last Wednesday I
quoted the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians (vv. 22-25).
Now after an introductory glance at this classic text, one should
examine the way in which this passage—so important both for the
mystery of the Church and of the sacramental character of
marriage—is situated in the immediate context of the whole letter.
While realizing that there are a number of problems discussed among
biblical scholars as regards the authorship, the date of
composition, and those to whom the letter was addressed, one must
note that the Letter to the Ephesians has a very significant
structure. The author begins this letter by presenting the eternal
plan of the salvation of man in Jesus Christ.
"God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...has chosen us in him that
we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love
to be his sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his
will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed
on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his
grace...as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in
him..." (Eph 1:3, 4-7, 10).
The author of the Letter to the Ephesians, after having presented in
words full of gratitude the plan which, from eternity, is in God,
and at a certain time is already fulfilled in the life of humanity,
beseeches the Lord that men (and directly those to whom the letter
is addressed) may fully know Christ as head: "He has made him the
head over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness
of him who fills all in all" (1:22-23).
Sinful humanity is called to a new life in Christ, in which the
pagans and the Hebrews should join together as in a temple (cf.
2:11-21). The Apostle preaches the mystery of Christ among the
pagans, to whom he especially addresses himself in his letter,
bending "the knee before the Father" and asking him to grant them
"according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened with might
through his Spirit in the inner man" (3:14, 16).
Vocation flowing from the divine plan
2. After this profound and moving revelation of Christ in the
Church, in the second part of the letter the author passes to more
detailed instructions. These are aimed at defining the Christian
life as a vocation flowing from the divine plan, which we have
previously spoken of, namely, from the mystery of Christ in the
Church. Here also the author touches various questions which are
always valid for the Christian life. He makes an exhortation for the
preservation of unity, underlining at the same time that this unity
is constructed on the multiplicity and diversity of Christ's gifts.
To each one is given a different gift, but all, as Christians, must
"put on the new nature created after the likeness of God in true
righteousness and holiness" (4:24). To this is linked the
categorical summons to overcome vices and to acquire the virtues
corresponding to the vocation which all have obtained through Christ
(cf. 4:25-32). The author writes: "Therefore be imitators of God, as
beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave
himself up for us...in sacrifice" (5:1-2).
Condemns pagan abuses
3. In the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians these
directives become more detailed. The author severely condemns pagan
abuses, writing: "For once you were darkness, but now you are light
in the Lord; walk as children of light" (5:8). And then: "Therefore
do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do
not get drunk with wine [referring to the book of Proverbs
23:31]...but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in
psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to
the Lord with all your heart" (5:17-19). The author of the letter
wishes to illustrate in these words the climate of spiritual life
which should animate every Christian community. At this point he
then goes on to consider the domestic community, namely, the family.
He writes: "Be filled with the Spirit...always and for everything
giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God the
Father. Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ"
(5:20-21). Thus we enter precisely into that passage of the letter
which will be the theme of our special analysis. We might easily
observe that the essential content of this classic text appears at
the meeting of the two principal guidelines of the entire Letter to
the Ephesians: the first, that of the mystery of Christ which, as
the expression of the divine plan for the salvation of man, is
realized in the Church; the second, that of the Christian vocation
as the model of life of the baptized individual, and of the single
communities, corresponding to the mystery of Christ, or to the
divine plan for the salvation of man.
4. In the immediate context of the passage quoted, the author of the
letter seeks to explain in what way the Christian vocation thus
understood should be realized and manifested in the relations
between all members of the family; therefore, not merely between the
husband and wife (treated of precisely in the passage of 5:21-33
which we have chosen), but also between parents and children. The
author writes: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is
right. Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment
with a promise) that it may be well with you and that you may live
long on the earth. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger
but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord"
(6:1-4). Following that, he speaks of the duty of servants in regard
to their masters and, vice versa, of masters in regard to servants,
that is, in regard to the slaves (cf. 6:5-9). This is to be referred
also to the directives concerning the family in the broad sense. The
family, indeed, comprised not only the parents and children
(according to the succession of generations), but included also in
the wide sense, the servants or slaves of both sexes.
5. Thus, then, the text of the Letter to the Ephesians which we
proposed as the object of a deeper analysis is found in the
immediate context of the teaching on the moral obligations of the
family society (the so-called "Haustaflen" or domestic codes
according to Luther's definition). We find similar instructions also
in other letters (e.g., in Colossians 3:18-24, and in First Peter
2:13; 3:7). Moreover, this immediate context forms part of our
passage, inasmuch as the classic text which we have chosen treats of
the reciprocal duties of husbands and wives. However, one must note
that per se the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians 5:21-33 deals
exclusively with married couples and marriage, and what regards the
family also in the broad sense is already found in the context.
First, however, before undertaking a more detailed analysis of the
text, it should be added that the whole letter ends with a
stupendous encouragement to the spiritual battle (cf. 6:10-20), with
brief recommendations (cf. 6:21-22) and with a final farewell (cf.
6:23-24). That call to the spiritual battle seems to be based
logically on the line of argument of the entire letter. It is the
explicit fulfillment of its principal guidelines.
Having thus before our eyes the overall structure of the entire
Letter to the Ephesians, we shall seek in the first analysis to
clarify the meaning of the words: "Be subject to one another out of
reverence for Christ" (5:21), addressed to husbands and to wives.
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 9 August
1982, page 1
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