Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Day 68: Another Short, Cosmic Epistle

This is another one of those short letter that some people think Paul might not have authored.  Some scholars date this letter slightly later because of some of the concerns named:  false teachers and doctrines, particularly preaching harsh ascetic practices.  Paul writes in part in order to counter these claims and re-assert the claims of the gospel.

Again, I'm struck by Paul's expansive gospel and Jesus:  "All things were created by him, both in the heavens and the earth."  This is a view of Christ that goes beyond the man Jesus who walked on this earth.  Jesus is God-incarnate, and he was around from the beginning of creation.  The gospel is God's secret plan from the beginning of time, not made manifest in the crucified and Risen Christ.  It was a secret, but it is a secret no longer, not since Jesus rose from the dead.

It's possible that Paul speaks this way because he is countering the claims of another religious group that they have a secret access to the gospel not known by others.  Sometimes these religious groups were known as "gnostics".  Paul says that yes, there is a secret, but it has been revealed now, and it's not just available to a few spiritual giants, but to everyone.  what's the secret?  "Christ living in you, the hope of glory."  And that you means all of you, not just a few special people.

As I read this letter I'm also struck by Paul's statement about supplying what is missing in the suffering of Jesus.  I have always been taught that there was nothing missing in the suffering of Jesus, so I'm intrigued by what he means.  What is the meaning of the suffering of Paul, or our own suffering, for that matter?  How does this connect with Jesus?  What does it mean to "supply what is missing?"

You may have noticed that again, Paul gives advice to members of households: husbands and wives, slaves and masters, children and parents.  Even though Paul admonishes masters to be kind to their slaves, I would wish that perhaps the bold Paul could be even bolder with regard to slavery.  Now we have been able to stand up and say that no one should be a slave.  Paul apparently was not able to go that far.  Later one, we would appropriate the Exodus story to work for freedom for those enslaved.  And we still can, despite Paul's caution.

Finally, as I read this letter (and others), I can't help but notice how often Paul speaks of prayer.  He prays, he gives thanks for other peoples' prayers, and he promises to pray for the churches he has visited and the churches he is planning to visit.  Prayer brings a kind of proximity with those who are far away, and binds them all together.

Prayer moves all throughout the letters of Paul.  Let's see if it keeps moving through the next letters we will read.

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