The Church turns our attention from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians to his Letter to the Ephesians.
The Ephesians are the inhabitants of the once cosmopolitan city of Ephesus, located in a region of the country we know as Turkey. Ephesus was a great commercial and cultural center of the ancient Mediterranean world. A magnificent shrine to the goddess Artemis dominated the city. Outside of the temple complex of Karnak in Egypt, and the temple mount in Jerusalem, it was the one of the most visited religious sites in the world, drawing pilgrims and tourists from far and wide.
The once mighty temple of Artemis is gone now. Tourists can still visit the site where the city once stood, but what they see in its ruins are just the skeletal remains of what was formally a living city.
Ephesus was densely populated and the Christians of the city would have been one of many minority groups who lived there. The New Testament Book Acts of the Apostles records that the Christian faithful were a persecuted minority and the Apostle Paul suffered torture and was nearly killed because of his testimony to the Church’s faith in Ephesus.
The Letter to the Galatians is a polemic, which means St. Paul is presenting an argument against viewpoints to which he is strongly opposed. I spoke about St. Paul’s argument last week. He believes that God in Christ has created in the Church a new kind of Israel. The new Israel is what we experiences as the Church and this new Israel is supposed to receive both Jew and Gentile, and do so, not through adherence to the Law of Moses and the cultural traditions of the Israelites, but through reception of the Sacraments and through works of mercy. The Sacraments and works of Mercy manifest to the world the new law of the new Israel, which is the love of God in Christ.
St. Paul believes that there is no going back to Israel as it was before Christ. To do so is to oppose the will and purposes of God. St. Paul insists that everyone, Jew or Gentile, is now called into and to be made a part of the new Israel.
The Letter of the Ephesians is not so much a polemic or an argument about the Church, but instead, it is more like an essay about the Church- and an elegantly crafted, poetic essay at that!
St. Paul has beautiful things to say about the Church in terms of its identity and mission and relies on the power of the Church’s beauty to persuade and convince us of the Church’s truth.
His master image is that of Christ the Bridegroom and the Church as his Bride, and this image becomes the means by which Christians are to understand the mystery of the Sacrament of Marriage. The understanding of marriage as a Sacrament, rather than just a cultural or legal construct, would have been something new for the Christians of Ephesus and St. Paul is demonstrating to the Ephesians where this new understanding of marriage as a Sacrament is coming from- not from culture or from law- but from the revelation of Christ.
How Christ enters into his relationship with the Church creates the means by which Christians, who marry as husband and wife, should understand their relationship with Christ, the Church and with one another.
The Christian understanding of marriage as a Sacrament, greater than law or culture, would ultimately have a revolutionary effect on the culture of the ancient world. Men and women would find it not only novel, but also beautiful, and as it was beautiful, attractive.
Some people are attracted to the Church because they find the arguments in favor of its truth to be convincing. But for most, they do not come to the Church because of an argument, but because they find the Church’s way of life to be attractive in some way- they discover or discern something beautiful, and then learn something true and then commit themselves to doing what is good.
This is why the Church so often favors the beautiful as the route of access into the Church’s way of life. Christ reveals the glory of the Lord, which is always beautiful, and from the revelation of this glory, introduces the world to his truth and goodness.
So it is also with the Church. The Church is meant to show forth the glory of God in Christ, and from this beautiful revelation, introduce the world to his truth and goodness and invite people to accept as their own, the Church’s way of life.
And herein is the challenge for we who claim to be disciples of the Lord: are we leading with the Lord’s beauty? How do we show forth in our way of life the glory, the beauty, of the Lord?