Summary: Year C. Eight Sunday after Pentecost July 29, 2001 Colossians 2:6-19 Title: “Evil only has the power over us that we give it”
Year C. Eight Sunday after Pentecost July 29, 2001
Title: “Evil only has the power over us that we give it”
In Chapter two verse ten, Paul introduced the theme “fullness of life” as a way of capturing the whole Christian experience in a single phrase. Verses eleven to thirteen develop this idea by emphasizing the radical re-birth experienced in Baptism. Despite the fact that Paul fought so hard to eliminate physical circumcision as a required sign of being part of God’s chosen people, he still appreciated its deep symbolism. The putting off of a part of one’s flesh, foreskin, was symbolically indicative of dying, especially to the old or former ways. The symbolism fit Baptism even better than it did circumcision. Circumcision, albeit, for men only, was a ritual of initiation into Israel, God’s signed people, and of reconciliation with him, precisely the effects now of Baptism. In fact, in verse eleven, the author even refers to Baptism as the “circumcision of Christ.”
In verse twelve, you were buried with him in baptism: As in the case of “putting off” the flesh in circumcision, Christians must now “put off,” that is, die to, leave behind, detach from their previous worldly practices and thought patterns. Baptism involves this movement, a movement akin to death.
“You were also raised with him,” Baptism also involves another movement, a becoming “new.” It does not end in death but continues on into the “fullness of life,” now captured under the rubric of resurrection.
“Through faith in the power of God,” yet, Baptism, the very power of God himself, is no magical rite automatically effective. It requires personal faith, an interior renewal of mind, objectively done by God and subjectively accepted and personally appropriated by the Christian. Baptism and faith are of the same cloth as the dying and rising of Jesus
In verse thirteen, you were dead in transgressions, the Jews had received the divine law by revelation. They disobeyed God’s will in the form in which they knew it, the Mosaic law. Pagans, ignorant of the Mosaic law, had disobeyed God’s will in the form in which they knew it, the inner voice of conscience. Both Jew and Gentile were morally bankrupt before God and equally in need of his pardoning grace. Here that situation of moral bankruptcy is described as like being dead.
“Uncircumcision of your flesh,” it matters little whether a person enters into Baptism physically circumcised or not. The person undergoes Baptism as a “spiritual circumcision,” a putting off of the old flesh.
“He brought you to life along with him,” one aspect of Baptism is the submerging, the “dying.” But it is not over. One does not stay submerged or dead. One rises, exits the water and lives a new way of life. Christ did that in his death and subsequent resurrection and so does the baptized Christian do that along with him.
“Having forgiven us all our transgressions,” the former situation of bondage to sin, present sins, past sins, and sin itself, represented by submergence into the water, is changed by emergence from the water, now equated with forgiveness. The word used here for forgiveness is not the usual one, Greek aphiemi, but charizomai. Its root is charis, “grace.” It was used to indicate the free cancellation of a debt as in Luke 7:42. It prepares the way for the imagery in the next verse. It also links forgiveness to free and undeserved, indeed, unexpected, grace as opposed to earning forgiveness through penance.
In verse fourteen to fifteen, the passage ends with a collage of three metaphors to illustrate just how we now possess “fullness of life.” Just as Jesus fashioned his parables from the raw material of the village and country life of Galilee where he preached, so the author uses images and examples from the bustling ethos of the Greco-Roman cities where he preached. Citing the examples of 1) the debtor’s bond, 2) the inscription on the cross of a condemned man indicating his crime, and 3) the triumphal march of a conquering Roman general, the author illustrates three major aspects of forgiveness.
In verse fourteen, obliterating the bond against us, in those days if one were bankrupt one could not declare “Chapter 13” or anything else. One went to prison until the debts were paid and they hardly ever were. How can one pay off debts while in prison? The author uses this well-known situation to illustrate that Christ himself, in effect, cancelled or paid off our mountain of bankruptcy. Debts would be written down on wax tablets or slates. Hence the imagery of “wiping out” or “erasing” would be apropos.
“Nailing it to the cross,” it is as if Jesus took all our bills, charge accounts and all, and nailed them right up there with the inscription on his cross charging him with being a king. There they are fastened publicly for all to see on the cross of Christ. The same nails, which fastened Christ, freed us.