SECOND READING – letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians 1,12-20
12 give thanks to God the Father
who made you capable
to share in the inheritance of the saints
in the light.
13 Delivering us from the power of darkness,
he has placed us in the kingdom of his beloved Son,
14 in him we have the redemption,
the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn, before every creature,
16 In him everything was created
in heaven and on earth.
Visible and invisible beings,
everything is created by him and for him.
17 He is above all things,
and everything remains in him.
18 He is also the head of the body, the head of the church:
he is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
so that he has the primacy in everything.
19 For God has seen fit that all the fullness dwell in him
and that everything, through Christ,
May he finally be reconciled,
making peace with the blood of his Cross,
peace for all beings
on earth and in heaven.
HE IS THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD
This text is both magnificent and terribly difficult; but we have a good feeling that he goes very far in contemplating the mystery of our faith: it resounds like a creeda summary of mystery of Christ as Paul and the first Christians1 were able to discover him. We have there a great fresco of the project of God and the affirmation that this work of God is accomplished in Jesus Christ. Everything was created in him AND everything was recreated, reconciled in him. Jesus Christ is truly the center of the world and of history.
To begin with, note that everything said about God’s plan is said in the past tense: “He has enabled you…Resting us out of the power of darkness…He has placed us in the Kingdom of his Beloved Son”…and to the end of the text: God has judged it good that all fullness dwell in him”, a way of saying that this project of God is conceived from all eternity.
On the other hand, everything concerning Christ is said in the present tense: “In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins… He is the image of the invisible God… He is the head of the body, the head of the Church… He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead”… This mystery of Christ unfolds in each of us throughout our human history.
“He is the image of the invisible God”: this is perhaps the key to Paul’s thought: in the first Creation, God made man in his own image and likeness; the vocation of every man is to be the image of God. But Christ is the perfect example, if one dares say, he is truly man in the image of God: by contemplating Christ, we contemplate man, as God willed him. “Here is the man” (Ecce homo) said Pilate to the crowd, without suspecting the depth of this statement!
But, in Jesus, we also contemplate God himself: in the expression “image of the invisible God” applied to Jesus Christ, the word “image” should not be minimized: it must be understood in the strong sense; in Jesus Christ, God makes himself visible; or to put it another way, Jesus is the visibility of the Father: “Who has seen me has seen the Father” he will say himself to Philip (in the Gospel of John: Jn 14,9). A little further down in this same letter, Paul says again: “In him, in his own body, dwells all the fullness of the divinity” (Col 2,9). He therefore unites in himself the fullness of the creature and the fullness of God: he is both man and God. By contemplating Christ, we contemplate man… by contemplating Christ, we contemplate God.
It remains to be seen why the blood of the cross of Christ, as Saint Paul says, reconciles us with God. And there, the problem, it seems, is that this text can be read in two ways: first way, but which gives a completely false idea of God: God would have wanted Jesus to suffer a lot to deserve the effacement of our sins… But we must resolutely turn our backs on explanations of this kind; we know very well that it is not a question of paying a debt to God.
THROUGH CHRIST, HUMANITY IS RECONCILIATED WITH GOD
Second way of understanding this text, and this is the one I propose to you: it is the hatred of men that kills Christ, but, by a mysterious reversal, this hatred is transformed by God into an instrument of reconciliationof peace.
On a human scale, we sometimes have examples of this order: I am thinking of men like Itzak Rabin, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Sadat… They preached peace, equality between men, and that cost them life ; they were victims of the hatred of men; but, paradoxically, their death inaugurated a progress of peace and reconciliation. A testimony of love and forgiveness, which sometimes goes as far as the sacrifice of one’s life, is a ferment of peace. Because he shows us the way, he softens our hearts, if we want to.
But that is not enough to reconcile all of humanity with God because they are only men. Jesus, he is the man – God: he is both the God who forgives and humanity who is forgiven; what reconciles us is that the forgiveness granted by Christ to his executioners is the very forgiveness of God. It is God who forgives… for pure mercy on his part. Now we know, because we have seen it with our own eyes, how far God’s love and forgiveness go. This is why we have crucifixes in our homes. Let us add that only Jesus, because he is God, can transmit to us the Spirit of God so that we become capable of forgiving in our turn.
As Saint Paul says, it pleased God to forgive us through Jesus Christ: “God has seen fit that all fullness dwell in him and that all, through Christ, be finally reconciled to him, making peace through the blood of his cross. On Good Friday on Calvary, the one we call “the good thief” was the first beneficiary of this reconciliation (this is the gospel of this feast of Christ the King).
It is not magic for all that, we know it only too well: this New Covenant inaugurated in Jesus Christ is offered but we remain free not to adhere to it; for us, the baptized, it should be a constantly renewed subject of wonder and thanksgiving; this is why Paul began his contemplation with: “Give thanks to God the Father who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. “. He addressed himself to those whom he calls “the saints”, that is to say the baptized. The Church, by vocation, is the place where we give thanks to God. Do not be surprised that our weekly meeting is called ” Eucharist (literally in Greek “thanksgiving”).
* Nobody today can say with certainty whether this letter emanates from Paul or from one of his very close disciples.
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Sunday, November 20, 2022 – Catholic Church in France
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