Amos 8:1-12 and Psalm 52 •
|St Paul - El Greco|
Genesis 18:1-10a and Psalm 15 •
Colossians 1:15-28 •
On the majority of Sundays in the Christian year, the
lectionary readings include a passage from one of Paul’s letters. This is a
fact with which we are so familiar that its extraordinary nature is often lost on us.
These are letters written by an early follower of Jesus to tiny groups of people
in towns and cities that in many cases no longer exist. Yet almost 2000 years
later, millions upon millions of people, in countless different languages, read them and listen to them in the most worship filled moment of their week. What explains that amazing connection between an obscure past and a global present?
The puzzle is intensified by the further fact that Paul's letters tell us almost nothing about the life and ministry of Jesus. Their whole focus is not on information, but interpretation. On this score, despite their humble origins, Paul’s
letters have a depth of theological understanding and spiritual insight that no
other Christian writings have ever matched. It was Paul, rather than Peter,
John and the other disciples, who grasped the true significance of the Jesus he
had never encountered in the flesh. Paul was first to understand the full
import of believing that Jesus was the Christ promised by the God of Israel. Time and again he sets out the fundamental doctrines that such an
understanding implies, even though he he does not use the names by which these doctrines have subsequently become known.
This week’s extract from his letter to Colossians is a case
in point. There is only a trace of the once vibrant Greek city of Colossae in
what is now Turkey. Paul writes to correct some false understandings of Jesus
that have arisen there. In so doing he articulates a key element in the
Christian faith – the Doctrine of the Incarnation. “Christ Jesus is the image
of the invisible God”. This is Christ’s divinity, and the means by which human
beings can come to understand a transcendent God. At the same time, Christ’s humanity –“his
fleshly body through death” enables him “to present” human beings as “holy and
blameless and irreproachable before God”. It is in Christ’s uniquely two sided
nature that our salvation lies.
|He Qi - Martha and Mary|
Set alongside Paul’s profound reflections, however, this
week’s short Gospel about the all too human rivalry between Martha and Mary serves as an important reminder. The ultimate meaning of the Incarnation does
not lie in theological doctrines, but in ordinary life and how belief in Jesus is best manifested there.