Living the Love of God
Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
For the next four Sundays, we will be reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. The Christian community in Colossae was founded by St. Paul’s coworker, Epaphras. Because there are no references to the Hebrew Scriptures in this letter, scholars believe that the Christians of this city were Gentile in background. The letter was occasioned by a growth of an elitist group known as the Gnostics. There has been no little discussion about who actually wrote this letter, but we will leave that discussion to the scholars because, despite who wrote the letter, it is an important document for all those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus. The letter emphasizes the universal and cosmic significance of Jesus Christ
The passage that we read today is referred to as “The Christ Hymn.” The two verses of this hymn concern the role of Christ in creation and his role in redemption. Each stanza begins with the words: “He is.”
First, we hear of Jesus as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. This claim about Christ’s role in creation arises from the identification of Jesus as Wisdom, the agent of God’s creative power. The same claim appears in the prologue of St. John’s Gospel where Jesus is identified as the Word of God. By naming Jesus as the firstborn of all creation, the author tells us that all things were created through him and for him and in him. In other words, not only was Christ the instrument of creation, but he is also the goal of creation.
Then we hear of Jesus as the firstborn from the dead. His resurrection initiates the order of reconciliation and stands as the pledge for our general resurrection. The description of the risen Christ as “preeminent” means that just as in the order of creation Christ as the Wisdom of God was first, so in the order of redemption the risen Christ is first.
This hymn was probably taken from an early baptismal liturgy or ceremony. In the letter to the Colossians, the hymn stands as a theological introduction to the rest of the letter. So, for the next three Sundays, we can expect the second reading to develop and explicate the notion of Christ as preeminent, the firstborn, through whom we are all held together, and through whom we are all reconciled to God.
The importance of the letter for us today lies in that notion of reconciliation. When sin entered the world (as illustrated through the story of the fall of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis), God’s purpose in creating the universe was thwarted, for God’s intention was really quite simple. As the First Letter of St. John points out, God is Love. Creation was an act of love. We and the entire universe were created as objects of God’s love who would love Him in return. However, humankind turned away from that love through disobedience.
Undaunted by that act of disobedience, God unveiled a plan that would bring about our reconciliation with God. Through the Hebrew Scriptures we hear the story of how God set that plan in motion. Through various covenant relationships, God called us back to love – a love of God and the love of our neighbor (of which we read from the Book of Deuteronomy). Ultimately, our relationship to God was sealed in a new covenant, a covenant that was initiated through the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross. Just as the first covenant initiated through Moses was sealed in the blood of animal sacrifices, the new covenant was sealed in the blood of Jesus. Through his resurrection, Jesus reconciles us all to His Father, the God we have named Love. This is precisely why the sacred writer claims that Jesus is preeminent because without Jesus, there can be no reconciliation. The responsorial psalm for today, Psalm 69, reminds us of the loving or great kindness and of the abundance of God’s great mercy which has reestablished God’s original intention in creating us, the object of God’s love. The Gospel parable we proclaim today give us an example of living out that love.