December 23, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians

John F. FinkAfter Christmas, there are special readings in the Office of Readings next week from Monday through Wednesday for the feasts of St. Stephen, St. John and the Holy Innocents, and then again on Friday for the feast of the Holy Family. St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians slides in there, though, on Thursday and Saturday. It is a short letter, only four chapters.

Colossae was in Asia Minor, in modern Turkey. It was one of the churches Paul wrote to that he didn’t establish. A man named Epaphras did. Then, apparently, he reported to Paul that false teachers were telling the Colossians that Christ’s work was insufficient, and that certain other ascetical practices were needed for salvation.

Paul, writing from prison—we don’t know where—tried to use his authority to assure the Colossians that, by Christ’s saving death, God “delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14).

He quotes a liturgical hymn apparently known by the Colossians. It states that Christ is the image of the invisible God, that through him and for him all things were created, that he is the head of the Church and the firstborn from the dead, and God will reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Paul then writes about his own ministry, telling his readers to emulate him, to follow his example. It is his desire, he says, to “present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle” (Col 1:28-29).

Then comes his warning against false teachings. They apparently included the worship of angels that were connected with pagan superstitions, and rules about food, drink and ascetical practices. These things, he says, detract from the person and work of Christ for salvation.

He then encourages the Colossians to renounce vices such as anger, fury, malice, slander and obscene language. Instead, they should practice compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. “And over all put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Col 3:14).

He urges wives to be subordinate to their husbands, husbands to love their wives, children to obey their parents, slaves to obey their human masters, and masters to treat their slaves justly and fairly, “realizing that you too have a Master in heaven” (Col 4:1).

He concludes with greetings from those with him, including Mark and Luke, traditionally thought to be the authors of Gospels later in their lives.

The Criterion will not be published the next two weeks. Between Epiphany and the feast of the Baptism of Jesus, the Office of Readings returns to the Book of Isaiah, this time to the oracles in Chapters 60-66. These chapters were written in Jerusalem after the Jews returned after their exile.

During the First Week in Ordinary Time, on Jan. 9-14, the Office of Readings includes selections from the Book of Sirach. As this book itself says, it was not written by Sirach but by his grandson, a man named Jesus. It is part of the Jewish wisdom literature. †

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