The Epistle. Ephesians 5:15
Brethren: See then that ye walk circumspectly: not as fools, but as wise: redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess: but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord: giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
You know, once in awhile, we priests get terribly unlucky when the lessons for the day are just too self-explanatory. Try as we might to mine some special gem of wisdom from out of the Epistle or the Gospel, there’s just no way that we can improve upon what’s there in plain English (or at least in plain 16th Century English). Today’s Epistle from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is one such example.
“See then that ye walk circumspectly: not as fools, but as wise”; quite literally, the apostle is saying, “watch carefully how you live”. Now this might seem rather obvious since we, as Christians, are supposed to be always mindful of the example we set for others. However, in this instance, St. Paul is not simply talking about being good “church-going” Christians; he is telling us that we need to work to achieve a consistent state of preparedness as well. “Prepared for what”, you may ask?
“redeeming the time, because the days are evil”. The answer is, “prepared for anything”. Just as it was then, so it is now; sin is everywhere around us. I need not point out all the examples of Satan’s influence in the world in which we live. But this fact should not trouble us to the point of distraction; rather we must see this as a series of opportunities. We are presented with the great opportunity to be witnesses to the sins of the world; to call attention to them, to tell the world how they offend God, and to speak about the forgiveness of God. St. Paul tells us that we must make the most of every opportunity that is presented to us.
This then is why we must be prepared. And just how do we prepare? Easy; “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is”. No man may presume to know the mind of God, but we do know what His Will is. It is His Will that sinful man repent and be saved. It is His Will that evil be defeated and that Satan not prevail.
Further, we understand His Will; “so God loved the world, that He gave His only Begotten Son“ (John 3:16). It is God’s Love that underpins everything that we are and everything that we do as Christians. God’s Love is the beginning of wisdom; and our acknowledgement of His Love for us reflects our understanding of His Will. This understanding is our best preparation for the opportunities that will come our way.
But of course, we must never forget that we are but human; “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess”. Now St. Paul is not just talking about over-imbibing on strong drink here (though that is included in this particular admonition); what he is warning against is allowing ourselves to become so caught up in the pleasures of this world that it changes our behavior. When we are presented with material things that we think will make our lives easier, more enjoyable, more comfortable, we tend to become focused on obtaining those things; and we start to act as other than a Christian people. And what does that say to others about our morality as Christians? ”By their fruits, ye shall know them“; (Matthew 7:20). As Christians, we must not allow our desire for material comforts to become obsessive.
So just how do we avoid the dangers of such excess? “but be filled with the Spirit“. OK, so this is rather obvious as well. Of course, St. Paul is talking about the Holy Spirit here. Be filled with the Holy Spirit; The Spirit of God; The comforter sent to us by Jesus Christ. The Spirit invoked at our Baptism and Confirmation. The Spirit we ask to bless and sanctify the bread and wine at the Mass; the Spirit that is with us everywhere, at all times; the Spirit that we must open ourselves to, and welcome into our hearts and minds; the Spirit that propels us into that state of joy that we share with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Spirit to which we are witness, and that others may see in us, when we “speak in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord“.
And as we are doing all these things; as we become filled with the Holy Spirit, as we come to understand God’s Will, as we prepare to take advantage of every opportunity presented to us, we must always be mindful of He who has given us these great gifts; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have been so unbelievably blessed! All that we have and all that we are, is impossible to achieve on our own. But with God, all things are possible. And while the greatest Blessing He has given is the Sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son, He has also given us another gift; each other. “submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God“.
Us. Right here in this place. We are a community of believers, the fellowship of Christ. St. Paul’s last admonition here is that we must submit to one another. We must be mindful of each others feelings and wishes, as long as we and they defer to the fear of God. Submission to one another is not an abdication of personal honor or authority, but rather an acknowledgement of our shared status as children of God and followers of Christ. In this act of submission is unity, harmony, and the joy of fellowship in Jesus Christ.
So there you have it, in plain English; St. Paul’s very simple message to us today. Make the most of every opportunity to witness to the evil in the world and to call others to repentance. Be prepared for these opportunities by living wisely and understanding the Will of God. Avoid the temptations of this life by being filled with the Holy Spirit, while always giving thanks to God for all that He has given us. And rejoice in the fellowship of your Christian family, cheerfully submitting one to the other in unity and harmony. See? I told you that it was all self-explanatory.
“but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”.