‘The Spreading Fragrance’ A commentary on some verses from St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians

‘The Spreading Fragrance’

A commentary on some verses from                                     St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians

 

Year 2, Week 28, Thursday                             Glenroy 1976

They too are beloved

“He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.         Ephesians 1:5-7

The scene at Jordan is archetypal. Jesus is blessed with the gift of the Spirit and proclaimed ‘Well-Beloved’. St Paul explains that this event is significant not only for Christ. Christians, who have faith in this Beloved, are also recipients of his grace. They are joined to the ‘Beloved’, so that they too are beloved. He goes on to say that the salvific event is the death of Christ. It is in his blood that they are redeemed.

St Paul says more. The experience of the Spirit is an experience of inner freedom. By faith in the Beloved, Christians are beloved. They acquire freedom, and their sins are forgiven. It is in Christ, whether glorious at the Jordan or glorious on Calvary, that they gain inner freedom and strength. It is in the Man that they become human. Faith is not in someone who is limited by  time or circumstance. Faith is in a Reality which transcends all its manifestations. Faith is in this Glorious One who is, and whom Christians shall be and already are.

 

Year 2, Week 28, Friday                                 Glenroy 1976

Gifted with the Holy Spirit

“In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”       Ephesians 1:13-14

Moses had prayed that his spirit be given to seventy men, for them to help him as leader. He wished, indeed, that the whole camp might receive his spirit.

It was therefore understood, at the time of Jesus, that the Messiah would bestow the Spirit and that  the whole people would receive this divine power.

When, therefore, the Christian community, at Pentecost, began to show the power of the Spirit, it became clear that the reign of the God had begun. Yet some said that these Christians were merely drunk on new wine or, even worse, that their Spirit was evil. No, they were gifted with the Holy Spirit. It was a seal against the destruction and a guarantee of redemption, like the blood of the paschal lamb that had sealed  the doorposts against the Avenging Angel in Egypt.

The pouring out of the Spirit is the pledge of an eternal future.

 

Year 2, Week 29, Monday                              Glenroy 1976

The one Man

“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ —by grace you have been saved.”             Ephesians 2:4-5

Nature, of itself, is full of grace and, buoyed up by the Spirit, has produced its infinite variety. Creation is good and holy, with the seed of life in it, full of hope.

The thrust of life, vested in animals, is further vested in human beings. At the same time, life is involved with death. Death is disintegration. Death is corruption. Death is putrefaction.

God intervenes in this picture and re-asserts himself. He makes the Spirit move again across the face of creation and moves humans to seek, from their inmost depths, the Man. The Human seeks the Man, the wonderful, the glorious, the ideal.

The Ultimate goes further. Through the preaching of the Church, Christ is presented as the crucified, the Man. “Ecce Homo”.

God goes further. He gives humans the ability to understand the mystery, namely that Christ is the Man precisely because of the way he died. “Truly this man was Son of God”, says the centurion upon seeing how Jesus died.

God foes further. He leads humans to faith in the Man, the crucified, the glorious, so that the Human becomes the Man. The two are one, with the result that the Man is now active in the Human. As God has made Jesus the Man, so he makes those who have faith in him Man also.

Therefore, we are Man. Our power is real because the Man is real. We have been made alive with Christ, in Christ. Creation has regained its thrust and its vitality.

 

Year 2, Week 29, Tuesday                              Glenroy 1976

The New Adam

“He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 1and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”       Ephesians 2:15-16

At the time of St Paul, it was understood that God would restore all things, re-creating the innocence of Eden. All mankind, issued from Adam and involved in sin, would return, through innocence, to the original unity in the New Man. The ‘sin of Adam’ had set the human race on the road of hostility and hatred. The restoration would retrace the steps to the New Adam.

For Paul, the hostility between Jew and Gentile was symbolic of the hatred between all humans. This hatred was contrasted, during in his missionary journeys, with the sight of both Jews and Gentiles coming to one faith in the one glorious Lord dead and risen. The ancient enemies had undergone the same religious experience that touched their inmost being. So, in their faith in the one Christ they had become one being with each other. They were not a multiplicity of humans but one Man.

This was nothing less than the restoration of Eden, the recall of Adam’s sin, the formation of a New Man of peace to replace the Old Adam of sin and division. It was a new creation and the end of time.

This unity in faith meant relativizing rules and laws, attitudes and customs. It meant going beyond particular manifestations in time and space, culture and era, and going to the essential which was faith in the glorious Lord, the essential Man. The many are one.

 

                                                                                    East Doncaster, 1992

One Body

“He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”       Ephesians 2:15-16

The  shock of  the  crucifixion is  so  great, its stupidity and wickedness so horrible that the whole fabric of creation, the whole rhythm and reason of the world collapse. Nothing has consistency. Nothing makes sense. Even revelation is shown to be darksome.

The One who is beyond all created things and beyond knowledge: He alone is left. He alone is consistent. He is evident, not in ideas but in his Person. Thus, he has come close, heart to heart, person to person.

Therefore, Jesus is raised, not as an object but as subject, not measurable but knowable. He is fully present and with the power of his presence we become present to each other. We allow ourselves to be dismayed, puzzled, confused, by the terror of the cross. We become present to the Presence and to each other, heart to heart.

 

Year 2, Week 29, Wednesday                          East Doncaster, 1992

The mystery

 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”    Ephesians 3:5

For my holidays I went to outback New South Wales and South East Queensland. I had always wanted just to leave everything and head north into the sun. The desert holds a great fascination for me. It is a place of mystery, a region of light. In the silence of the desert there is music and speech beyond words. So, I went to the desert to see and hear.

Paul speaks of mystery and revelation, namely the mystery of Christ hidden before all ages and now revealed to him and through him to all the pagans.

In each of us there is mystery. Let us enter into the desert of our soul and contemplate its mystery, and by the light of the Spirit read its revelation. Then we can communicate to teach other the Presence of God who enlightens each of us secretly.

 

Year 2, Week 29, Thursday                             Glenroy 1976

The hidden self

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit.”     Ephesians 3:16

Paul’s prayer is concerned with growth of the most subtle and most fundamental human dimension.

A plant grows by absorbing its surroundings and transforming them into itself, changing in the process, so that its hidden potentialities become real and known. ‘Ah, this is a tree; in fact it is a eucalypt’. Those who live by the truth grow through absorbing knowledge and entering into relationships, by having insights and experiencing challenges.  Their hidden character becomes manifest. What was dim becomes clear, what was uncertain becomes definite. The inner self is strengthened and manifested.

Those who have come to faith in Christ are transformed most mysteriously into a new self. Their self and the self of Christ become one. They act and Christ acts; they live and Christ lives; they grow and Christ grows. As their hidden potentialities become manifest, so Christ becomes manifest. As they arrive at fullness in this world, Christ arrives at his fulness in this world. It is the return of Christ.

All this is the work of the Spirit. No human wisdom and forethought can achieve it. The Spirit moves in directions that escape the human grasp. The Spirit covers them as he will and they grow by feeling their way. All Paul can do is call on the Spirit to act powerfully, with no restraint or holding back, so that he, Paul, might be powerfully strengthened and come to share in the glory of Christ, being fully grown and fully known.

 

                                                                                  East Doncaster, 1992

The hidden self

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit.”     Ephesians 3:16

Paul prays that our hidden self may grow strong.

Humans have a public image and a hidden self. The public image is the way they have learned to behave in public, the way that is safe and acceptable. For the Ephesians, the hidden self is the aspect of character that has been touched by grace, by the fire which Christ wished to cast upon the earth.

There can be a fear to reveal the true self because it may be challenging or unsettling to others. Paul’s prayer is that the hidden self of the Ephesians might grow strong, that they might be aware of God’s work in them and become confident of its truth. Thus, they transform their hidden self into their public image and reveal to the world the face of the Christ who they have become.

 

Year 2, Week 29, Friday                                 East Doncaster, 1992

The sevenfold unity

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”         Ephesians 4:4-6

How  much we  appreciate  the unity  of  the family,  where husband and wife live in harmony! By contrast, how distressed we are when there are disputes and resentments!

St Paul calls the Ephesians to preserve the unity of the Spirit. He speaks of the sevenfold unity they share: one Body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.

There are no limits to unity they shall one day enjoy. They shall become spirit so that they might enjoy the perfect unity which is available only in the Spirit. They shall become each other. The one body will be transfigured into the one spirit. 

 

Year 2, Week 30 Monday                               Glenroy 1976

The spreading perfume

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”       Ephesians 5:1-2

In the Old Testament, plants and animals were brought to the altar and consumed in fire. According as they were acceptable or not, the odour of their burning was pleasing or displeasing to God. Thus, the smell of Noah’s sacrifice after the flood is deemed to be fragrant, such that God pledges not to destroy the earth again.

Love, born of the Spirit, must become spirit.  Love, seizing hold of people, transforms them into itself. Human love reaches out to all in their joys and deepest griefs. Love wishes to undergo the death of deaths in order to be nothing but love.

For this reason, Christ, willingly and freely, of his own initiative, hands himself over, in the garden and before Pilate. His love is revealed by his giving; it is realized in his surrender.

Paul immediately makes the connection between this surrender and the temple cult. One event explains the other.

Jesus’ sacrifice, proceeding from the necessity of love, is pleasing to God. But there is more. The offering, as it is burnt, becomes something new. Previously it could be seen and touched;  but on being consumed it can only be sensed.  It used to be located in one spot, but now it fills space. It used to be material, but now it is born on the wind. It still exists, but it has been changed. So too with Christ. Once located within the bounds of time and space, culture and history, he has gone into a new dimension. He still exists, but he has been changed.

This change we all wish to undergo. We want the essence of our bodies to be distilled and set free, so that we can escape the limitations of history and reach an eternal expansiveness. Yet there is only one way. It is through sacrifice. We too, moved by the Spirit, must strip and strip, die and die, not through sin, but through grace.

  

                                                                                  East Doncaster, 1992

The fragrance

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”       Ephesians 5:1-2

Jesus holds all things together in his own being. There had to be someone who could be the heart of this world. In him all things are found: holiness and sin, heaven and earth, time and eternity. He came from above and entered completely into this world; he left this world to enter the highest heaven, offering himself on behalf of all. He takes all with him. Despite sin there is one who is pleasing. Jesus is pleasing to God. Jesus is with humanity.

There is not only the obscure and distant sin of Adam. The sins of the future will be even more terrible than those of the past. The sin of the future will reflect the sin of Calvary.

Paul goes on to speak of the image humans should project. They have been made holy by Jesus’ fragrant offering. The human project is to be transfigured, and made fragrant.

 

 

About interfaithashram

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Roman Catholic Priest, a senior lecturer at MCD University of Divinity, and Honorary Fellow at Australian Catholic University. His doctorate is in Sanskrit in the field of Kashmir Shaivism. He is chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and has established a pastoral relationship with the parishes of Lilydale and Healesville. He is the author of 'Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka', 2003; 'Jesus, the Mantra of God', 2005; 'Vers un tantra chrétien' in 2009; translated as 'Towards a Christian Tantra' in 2009. He has written many articles. He travels to India each year. He lives in an interfaith ashram.
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