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Monthly Scripture Study & Reflection

"He is the head of the body, the Church ."

The Letter to the Colossians

Recommended readings: Path Through Scripture by Fr. Mark Link (Paperback 1995--$14.50), Understanding the Bible: A Basic Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Fr. George T. Montague, S.M.,(Paperback 1997 $15.96)  An Introduction to New Testament Christology by Fr. Raymond E. Brown. Time magazine hailed Raymond Brown as "the leading U.S. Catholic authority on the Bible."   In this accessible work written for all Bible students, Brown presents an intelligible introduction to the way Jesus was understood in His lifetime and in the lifetimes of His original followers.

   This letter was written to a congregation at Colossae, a community located east of Ephesus, established by Epaphras of Colossae.  Paul had not visited there at the time the letter was written.  Paul was imprisoned at a place that the letter does not mention.  Epaphras sought him for help in dealing with problems which had developed by teachers who emphasized Christ's relation to the universe (cosmos).

Without entering into the debate over the existence of angelic spirits or their function, Paul simply affirms that Christ possesses the sum total of redemptive power and the spiritual renewal of the human person occurs through contact in baptism with the person of Christ. This reflection is on Chapter One.

We are seeing an increasing number of "New Age" versions of traditional Christian faith, which share a number of traits in common. They are all mystical, which means that they teach that the individual has direct access to God through various techniques of meditation, and therefore, we do not need the guidance of priestly authorities or the sacramental means of grace. They are all spiritual, in the sense that they believe human beings are primarily spiritual rather then physical beings. Our bodies are either the temporary housing of the spirit or they have no enduring reality. They are all monistic, which means that they teach that all of us have a part of God within us. There is no radical separation between God and the individual. Finally, most of them believe in reincarnation. We live multiple lives in our spiritual ascent.

Why do many of these New Age religions claim to be Christian? Their answer is that the "Christ Principle" is the manifestation of God’s power and our guide to truth. In other words, they separate the man Jesus from the spiritual power that he embodied and mediated. Jesus was just one of a series of historical exemplars of the Christ Principle.

While this New Age reading of the New Testament certainly does not pass muster in terms of orthodox theology, it sounds quite similar to these words from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Paul describes "Christ" as the express image of God, as the creative power of God, as the providence of God. As such, Paul sees "Christ" as the manifestation of God’s power and truth since time began. The same "Christ" fully revealed in Jesus is everywhere manifest throughout history

Samuel Sandmel, a Jewish New Testament scholar, once described the difference between Christians and Jews in this way: "Unlike Christians, Jews are able to get mad at God!" What sounds at first like a clever turn of phrase turns out to contain a profound truth. Jews are able to get mad at God. The Old Testament is filled with human quarrels with God, none more eloquent and impassioned than Job's diatribe against God. The interesting question is why Jews are able to argue with God while most Christians see such expressions as blasphemy? The reason is simple -- Jews hold God accountable to the same moral standards of equality, justice, and mercy as we are held to. When God seems to violate those standards, human protests -even angry protests - against God in the name of morality seem entirely justified.

But the Apostle Paul describes another kind of anger directed against God. We human beings are often angry with God because he gets in our way. Like a teacher who catches us cheating or a policeman who stops us for speeding, we erupt in anger against the enforcer of the rules. That's the kind of anger against God that Paul mentioned in this passage: "You yourselves were once alienated from him; you nourished hostility in your hearts because of your evil deeds." Needless to say, this kind of anger toward God has no moral or rational justification. There is no moral high ground from which to question God if our complaints grow out of our own failures to fulfill the divine law.

The only appropriate response to such anger against God is to admit the error of our ways and repent of our sins.



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