Breadth and Length and Height and Depth, Part 3

Prayer for the Readers Eph 3:14-21

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.[1] 

that you, rooted and grounded in love

We are rooted and grounded in love through the love of the Father who strengthened us in the Spirit and His Son who dwell in our hearts through faith. Rooted in the Holy Spirit, grounded in Christ.

Why both rooted and grounded? The first is a reference from nature: to be rooted, to have established firm roots. This implies that the love which is rooted has grown and become firmly established in the Spirit, who is known by his appearances in the guise of nature, a dove, fire, wind.

Grounded, on the other hand, refers to having laid a firm foundation, make stable, establish. If, indeed, Paul wished to align this with Jesus, it echoes of Jesus own parable of the two houses: Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined. [Mt 7: 24-27] If we have a true love of Jesus and have experienced His unconditional love of us, we, indeed, have a firm foundation upon which to build our lives.

may have strength to comprehend

Here we come to the crux of the matter; all Paul’s prayers that we be strengthened in the Spirit and have Christ dwell within us have been in order that we may have the strength to comprehend. This raises at least two questions: why do we need strength and why just comprehension?

Comprehension, at least as we normally experience it, is a fairly non-taxing activity; we look at something, figure it out and understand it. No biggie. But here, it seems that Paul is in awe of the undertaking, albeit mental, on which we are about to embark. He calls on the big guns, the Spirit and Jesus, to help us in this matter. He foresees that this exploration is an expedition of enormous proportion, covering the breadth and length and height and depth of all reality, of the entire cosmos, and not just spatially, but temporally, encompassing a panoramic view of creation as a manifestation of God’s gift of love to us from the Big Bang through all of Incarnational History down to the present moment.

Not only that but we will be viewing God, God at work in His universe, His creation, His cosmos. If we hearken back to the vistas of the Hebrew Bible, the encounters with God are not only awe-inspiring, they are fear-filled. From Noah, who moved by fear prepared an ark [Heb 11:7] in the middle of nowhere and was thus saved, to Abraham, who realizes he is only dust and ashes but presumes to plead with God not to be angry with him for asking God to spare Sodom. [Gen 18:16-33] Even Moses who cannot look on God’s face and live [Ex 33:20] and Elijah who braved raging wind, earthquake and fire and yet at the sound of the still small sound of God, hid his face in his cloak. [1Kgs 19:13] It seems that Paul anticipates God hurling at us the same challenge with which He met Job’s folly: Gird up your loins now, like a man. I will question you, and you tell me the answers![Job 40:7] After this little jaunt, Paul expects us to be saying with Job: By hearsay I had heard of you, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes. [Job 42:5-6] More dust and ashes. Obviously, a journey of a lifetime, and literally, we will definitely need strength!

But why only comprehension? Why not grokking through involvement? Experience? Immersion? Maybe it does include all of these. καταλαμβάνω, here translated “to comprehend,” is used by Paul in a number of places: to seize the prize in the race [1Cor 9:24]; to achieve a goal [Rom 9:30]; to possess/be possessed by Christ [Phil 3:12]; to be overtaken by [1Thes 5:4]. Thus, at least in his mind, there is a through grasping, mentally and physically, of the object in question. Our English “comprehension” alludes to this totality, to completely lay hold of, seize, engulf. To be so tenacious, we must indeed be strengthened, since the object we are attempting to grasp is the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s Love, which is coextensive with God Himself, for God is, as we know, Love.

with all the holy ones

This is an interesting phrase to throw in the middle of this preparation for the examination of God. It reflects Paul’s ever present consciousness of the community, the Body of Christ, the unity of Christians into one family of adopted sons and daughters of God, the Father. And, unlike the connotation of holy ones today to refer specifically and only to those who are in heaven, Paul refers to the members of the Church as the saints, the holy ones, and he uses it in every letter except 1Thes and Galatians.

This indicates that all the holy ones are to contemplate this mystery; it is a requisite. It reminds me of the sensus fidei, the infallible sense of the faithful referred to in the Vatican II documents and some of the Papal documents which followed. It is a type of group discernment of Truth, of the absoluteness of the reality under examination.

Finally, it discards as ridiculous it passing hubris that I, in my finitude, with my limited mental capacity, my temporally and spatially confined experience, would think that I could achieve even a modicum of comprehension of this mystery on my own! Absurd!!! It is as if I, standing in my back yard in Vermont and looking up at the sky, had the chutzpah to think that I could not only see the entire universe, some, if not much of the light from which may not even have arrived here yet, but could understand it in all its physical immensity, complexity, infinitude. Ah, the revelries of a fool. Better, with Francis, to stick with Brother Sun and Sister Moon and pray with them to Father God.

what is the breadth and length and height and depth

We come to the centerpiece of our meditation, the puzzlement of the ages. Paul does not specify what we are intended to measure. Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch comment, “Many connect these dimensions with the limitless scope of Christ’s love, which [in the next phrase, Paul notes] surpasses understanding.[3:19] Others see a reference to the untraceable vastness of God and his wisdom (Job 11:7-9) or to the cubic proportions of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:16) St. Gregory of Nyssa, in On the Three Days, states: ‘The four dimensions are the four extensions of the Cross. By height is meant heaven, by depth the underworld, by length and breadth the cosmic order in between. In each of these realms, devotion to the Lord is rendered.’”[2] Other scholars agrees that the reference is unclear. One points out other possibilities, the Jerusalem Temple (Ezek 42, 47, 48) or God plan for salvation, but all seem to agree that the more likely is the love of Christ.[3]

While giving a nod to other possibilities, the probability of the love of Christ seems substantiated not only by the immediate subsequent reference in the following phrase, but also in Paul’s iteration of a very similar theme in his Letter to the Romans: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Rom 8: 38-39] Here he is more specific in his references, but again, all with reference to the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Ephesians, we were just to comprehend with all the holy ones; here we are invited to share Paul’s certainty that none of these extremes will be able to separate us from the love of God.  

Having said that, I feel cheated somewhat if I am not able to reflect on these enigmas myself, so, with your indulgence, I will venture where angels and exegetes do not offer clear conclusions.

First, while height and depth certainly bring to mind heaven and hell, length and breadth has been subsumed into popular parlance and attached to measuring “the land.” In a sense, not only is God’s reality found in creation, but creation is tangible evidence of God’s love. Thus, the length and breadth can be seen to measure “the actual world itself, a sacramental universe that is right in front of you and everywhere, as opposed to the ideal, the churchy, or the mental.”[4]

Second, by giving us four dimensions, Paul seems to want us to confront a measurable object, yet both God and God as Love are immeasurable. On the other hand, the cross, as pointed out in the text and footnotes, conveniently has four extensions corresponding to the four measurements. But the cross, in and of itself, is an instrument of torture; it is lovable only by reference to Jesus who hung on it; alone it horrifies and repulses. Thus, we come to something we can all get our arms around, Jesus, our Christ, our Leader, our Shepherd. It is He who is ultimately and intimately lovable, it is He to whom we can all relate, He who made the immeasurable measurable, He whom encapsulates and focuses all the other possibilities of interpretation, even the Temple by which He meant His Body, the True Temple of God, and the Heavenly Jerusalem, His Father’s house, yet as created, which seems likely since it is to hold creations like ourselves, brings us back to Christ since all things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. [Jn 1:3]

Third, Paul gives us another clue on that “measurable object” a few chapters later in Romans, where he exclaims: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! [Rom 11:33] In the Ephesians’ quote, he applies depth to the love of Christ; here he applies depth to the riches, wisdom and knowledge of God. Since, in God, all attributes are interrelated and united in the One, we conclude that we are always dealing with Love, here under the aspect of being known in His various judgments and…ways.

Again, depth is often applied to feeling or commitment. We “measure” our attachment to another person by our depth of feeling for that person. The same is true of God: “Every time we make the Sign of the Cross, we are reminded of the depth of love Jesus demonstrated and to which we are called.”[5] Of course, simply stating it is a far cry from truly experiencing God’s love and responding to it. That is the ultimate goal of any life.

Indeed, fourth, even the approach to that goal, in climbing the far flung foothills of God’s Love is to attain a great height. Like a mountain, ascending this peak is arduous, challenging, exhausting, fraught with chasms of sin which seem to lure us to our spiritual death with their false promises, hypnotically mesmerizing us to take just one more step towards our ultimate eternal demise. We must rely on Jesus and the Holy Spirit as our guides to show us the Way to the Father.

It is, if we be honest, the greatest high to which we can aspire and achieve. To know, to experience that I have reached “out and touched the face of God,”[6] that in turn I have been touched by God’s love is the ultimate hope, the ultimate dream of existence. All other pseudo highs are just that, pseudo, imitation, fake, limited, not going anywhere, without substance. They might effect us physically, even alter our mental state, but when we have been grounded in God’s love, nothing compares, nothing can touch that experience which, unlike our induced euphoric states, lasts forever.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Note for Eph 3:18, The New Testament: The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible RSV 2nd Catholic Edt (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2010), 349.

[3] Paul Kobelski, Note on Eph 3:18 width and length… The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Edts. R. Brown, J. Fitzmyer, and R. Murphy (Upper Saddle River, Prentice Hall, 1990), 888. See also: Ephesians 3:18, “The Letters of St. Paul,” The Navarre Bible, Reader’s Edition (New York, Scribners, 2003), 388: “St Paul asks God to give Christians understanding of the ‘mystery of Christ’, which essentially is the outcome of his love. In referring to the vast dimensions of this mystery he uses an enigmatic phrase—‘the breadth and length and height and depth’. These and similar terms were used by Stoic philosophy to designate the cosmos as a whole. Here they express the immense scale of the ‘mystery’ which embraces the entire plan of salvation, the actions of Christ and the activity of the Church. St Augustine interpreted these words as referring to the cross, the instrument of salvation which Christ used to show the full extent of his love (cf. De doctrina Christiana, 2,41). St Paul may indeed be trying to sum up all the richness of the “mystery” of Christ in a graphic way—in terms of a cross whose extremities reach out in all four directions seeking to embrace the whole world. The blood which our Lord shed on the cross brought about the Redemption, the forgiveness of sins (cf. Eph 1:7). It did away with hostility, reconciling all men and assembling them into one body (cf. Eph 2:15-16), the Church. Therefore the cross is an inexhaustible source of grace, the mark of the true Christian, the instrument of salvation for all. When, through the action of Christians, the cross of Christ is made present at all the crossroads of the world, then is that “mystery” implemented whose purpose it is to “unite all things in Christ” (cf. Eph 1:10).

[4] R. Rohr, Daily Meditation, Depth, Breadth, and Process, Sun, Jun 21, 2015

[5] Meditation text, “Being of Service,” 3 Minute Retreat for June 23, 2015, LoyolaPress.com.

[6] John Gillespie Magee, Jr, “High Flight,” Great Aviation Quotes: Quotable Flyer: Pilot and Flying Quotations, http://www.skygod.com/quotes/highflight.html

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Good and Bad Fruit…not so clear

Matthew 7 is a series of sayings and parables which, at first glance, seem to contradict one another. First, Jesus says: by their fruits you will know them. [Mt 7:20] [1]

However, He almost immediately follow with a parable that warns about external manifestations of power may not indicate a pure heart, a loving heart. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ [Mt 7:21-23] It is love in which we must be grounded, not external prophecy, exorcisms or mighty deeds which may indicate pride, not true discipleship.

Following this, he tells a parable about building one’s foundation in Him: Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined. [Mt 7: 24-27] If we have a true love of Jesus and have experienced His unconditional love of us, we, indeed, have a firm foundation upon which to build our lives.

Perhaps the difference between good fruit and bad fruit has more to do with one’s attitude than action: deeds done humbly, acknowledging Jesus and God as the source and power and referring the glory and praise to them, are good fruit. When Peter cured the man crippled from birth at the “Beautiful Gate” of the temple, he did so in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean [Acts 3:2-7] and the cured beggar leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God, [Acts 3:8] not Peter and John.

On the other hand, when one wants the glory and praise for himself, even though he is using God as the source of his power, it is bad fruit. When Simon the Sorcerer tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from Peter, Peter said to him, “May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money. You have no share or lot in this matter, for your heart is not upright before God. Repent of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your intention may be forgiven. For I see that you are filled with bitter gall and are in the bonds of iniquity.” [Acts 8:20-23] Simon wanted to buy God’s power for his own use and the fruit that would have been produced, would have been evil. Fortunately, God’s grace was at work and Simon repented, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”[Acts 8:24]

May I  build my house on the foundation of Your words and works, Jesus. May I use the gifts You have given me, Holy Spirit, with Your graces of wisdom and love. May the fruits I produce be good and offered through Your Son for Your greater honor and glory, Father. Amen.

1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Breadth and Length and Height and Depth, Part 2

Prayer for the Readers Eph 3:14-21

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.[1]

that he may grant you

I don’t often stop to consider how much God grants me in the course of a single day, a single minute. Consider existence, life itself, creation, breath, blood, vision, hearing, mobility, the grass, the sky, the cattle, the sunrise, the plants, the clock, the computer, hands. And then there is thought, faith, hope, unconditional love, angels, devils, Christ in me, being a temple of the Holy Spirit, having God as my Father, the communion of saints.

Jesus tried to remind us of this many times:

  • Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. [Mt 6:26]
  • Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. [Mt 6:28-29]
  • The eyes of all look hopefully to you; you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. [Ps 145:15-16]
  • Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. [Mt 10:29]
  • Even all the hairs of your head are counted. [Mt 10:30]
  • But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. [Mt 6:33]
  • Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. [Mt 6:34]

His conclusion to all these reassurances? Follow me![2] Take up your cross daily and follow me! [Lk 9:23] Indeed, Jesus says don’t worry about His plan for others: “What concern is it of yours? You follow me.” [Jn 21:22]

May:

not probability with only possibility of fulfillment but likelihood by removing obstacles. Paul kneels to intercede for us, to act as our advocate, to plead for us, to increase the assurance that God will answer his prayer and grant us that for which Paul prays.

in accord with the riches of his glory

Paul uses the exact same phrase two other times:

  • My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen. [Phil 4:19-20] Here, again, God is fulfilling a need in accord with the riches of his glory.
  • This was to make known the riches of his glory to the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared previously for glory, namely, us whom he has called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.[Rom 9:23-24] Here the riches are equated with that which is made known to us.

Jesus is the refulgence of his glory. [Heb 1:3] For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of [Jesus] Christ. [2Cor 4:6] This is iterated in Jesus prayer to the Father in John: “Father, glorify your name.” And the Father answers Him is John’s Theophany: Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” [John 12:28]

What are the riches of God’s glory? The question is better posed: Who is the riches of God’s Glory: Jesus: For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.[Rom 11:36]

To be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self.

This is what He grants: that we be strengthened, κραταιόω, “strong in spirit” from the root meaning “the mighty power of God.” This same word is used by Luke to describe the maturation of John the Baptist: The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel, [Lk 1:80] and Jesus: The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.[Lk 2:40] Paul wishes to emphasize the fact that it is a spiritual strengthening, so he adds with power through his Spirit in the inner self, but, in one sense, he has said it all in κραταιόω.

Not that we should give short shrift to the Holy Spirit. To put this in context, the entire Scripture and particularly the New Testament covertly, but overtly from Pentecost on, is a narration, a testament to the works of the Holy Spirit in individuals and in the Church. Here Paul prays for that to continue in the faithful in Ephesus as it has in the whole Church.[3]

Finally, note that the power through his Spirit is directed to and located in the inner self. This iterates the emphasis of Jesus on avoiding external power, lording it over other, and making one’s authority over them felt, a particularly poignant point in this time of social, corporate, political and military pressure, coercion and intimidation. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. [Mk 10:42-44]

and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;

We don’t really notice it, but in all Scripture, where you find Jesus, you find the Spirit; from His conception to His baptism to His temptations to His ministry to His last words on the Cross to His first blessing after His Resurrection to Pentecost, their ministries, their missions from the Father are intertwined, complimenting and manifesting the other.

So here also, Paul first prays that we be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Notice the parallels, not only Spirit and Christ but also the inner self and in your hearts and power and faith. Complimentary and cooperating by combining into forming a true redeemed one, an adopted child of the Father.

The indwelling of Christ in the inner self of the Spirit is an experience of which I only recently became aware, the fact that Jesus is in me and I am in Him, not just metaphorically, not just theologically, not just theoretically, but actually, really, and continuously.

It took me aback to realize that the Divine Son of God actually wants to spend time with me, be with me, walk with me, be yoked with me [Mt 11:30]. My first reaction is to panic, run around inside myself like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to clean up my mess, to be tidy and ship-shape for my Guest. That phase paralleled my life…the external conformity stage which lasted at least 40 years, give or take. It’s the “Doing” phase; the “I have to” phase; the “Law” phase. If I didn’t get it right, He won’t come, I’m sunk, that’s the end.

Only recently am I gradually, with the prompting of my Spiritual Director, my Confessor and particularly the Holy Spirit, entering the internal faith and love stage: graduating into the “Being” phase, the “Do unto me” phase, the “Prophets” phase.[4]

It in interesting that, in this stage, one’s perception of sin is changed. Whereas in the conformity stage, I battled sin and bad habits endlessly and without much success. It is somewhat like trying to denying the fact that all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. [Rom 3:23] If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [1Jn 1:8,10] I did not accept the fact that, while I could be cleansed of sin and reconciled with God through Confession, I was still a sinner.

This “new” phase incorporates that acceptance and the realization that Jesus, the Father, the Holy Spirit, love me anyway unconditionally, particularly without my ill conceived lies of which I tried to convince myself that (a) I was not a sinner; and (b) I could only be lovable if I was not a sinner. For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodlyBut God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us… Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life. [Rom 5:6,8,10] Indeed, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. [Jn 3:17]

So now I just say “Hi” to Jesus each morning, pick up my cross with all my sins hanging off it in glorious array, for He has forgiven them and trudge with Him, after Him, following Him. We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forbearance of God—to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus. [Rom 3:24-26]

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Indeed, this seems to be a favorite expression: Mt 8:22; 9:9; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21; Mk 2:14; 8:34; 10:21; Lk 5:27; 9:23; 9:59; 18:22; Jn 1:43; 10:27; 12:26; 13:36; 21:19,22.

[3] An exegetical conjecture without backing or proof: The fact that the whole first section of this letter, Chapters 1-3, is a prayer [“which was begun in 1:15-20, taken up again in 3:1 only to be interrupted in 3:2-13 by the description of Paul’s role in revelation” Kobelski, Note on Eph 3:15, TNJBC, 888] of which this section is the conclusion interrupted by exposition at least hints at the possibility that this was a prayer of the Church which Paul knew and may have been adapted to apply especially to the Ephesians at this time a la the Christological Hymns he incorporated in Philippians 2:6-11 and Colossians 1:15-20. For a substantiated exegetical interpretation, see Kobelski, Note on “Thanksgiving and Prayer of Intercession (1:14-23), THJBC, 887.

[4] While the prophets certainly upheld the Law, they also urged its Spirit including a spirit of repentance and redemption after being unable to keep the law perfectly: My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn. Ps 51:19] See also Ps 40:7; 50:8; Am 5:21–22; Hos 6:6; Is 1:11–15.

Breadth and Length and Height and Depth, Part 1

Breadth and Length and Height and Depth

Prayer for the Readers: Eph 3:14-21

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.[1]

A puzzling paragraph….As one does with a masterpiece of art, examining each portion of the painting reveals depths never seen if one simply takes it all in at once and moves on.  This paragraph has spoken to me my whole life.  It needs examining, close examining phrase by phrase.  We can take our time, we have all eternity.  We can wander through the fields of wisdom the Holy Spirit has given us and enjoy the wonder of, the inspiration of, the glory of just these few words of Scripture.

For this reason: This seems to be referring to the previous paragraph where Paul gives this reason: to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, and to bring to light [for all] what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.

To preach,…to bring to light…the manifold wisdom of God. It reminds me of There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. There is nothing kept secret that will not come to light which all three Synoptics quote. [Mt 10:26; Lk 8:17; Mk 4:22] or of Jesus telling the disciples that the Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you. [Jn 14:26]

I kneel before the Father: It would seem that, if we are preaching the inscrutable riches of Christ, it should be Christ before whom Paul is kneeling, a’la Thomas’ My Lord and my God. [Jn 20:28]. But it is the overwhelming realization that it is the Providence and plan of the Father, the God who created all things, this infinitely orchestrated plan of the mystery hidden from ages past, conceived in every minute detail before Creation itself, that brings Paul to his knees. It is manifold wisdom of the Father, this 360° reality of Salvation unfolding in real time and space known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time [1Pet 1:20] that will now be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.

From whom every family[2] in heaven and on earth is named: Naming plays an important role in Scripture and in the lives of the ancients. Naming something gave one some control, some power over that thing. “God, the creator of all the families of beings, established his power and control over all creation in the act of naming them (He numbers the stars, and gives to all of them their names. [Ps 147:4]; Lift up your eyes on high and see who created these: He leads out their army and numbers them, calling them all by name. [Isa 40:26]; cf. Gen 2:19-20).”[3]

This is borne out also in the first days of creation when God names those things that are beyond the immediate use by and control of man, the Cosmos, the sky, the earth, the sea: God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” God called the dome “sky.” God called the dry land “earth,” and the basin of water he called “sea.” (Gen 1:5, 8, 10) However, then, in both the Elohim (Gen 1-2:3) and the Yahweh (Gen 2:4-3:24) versions of Creation, there is a distinct break where the LORD stops naming things and, in both versions, gives that responsibility over to man:

  • Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. [Gen 1:26]
  • So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name. (Gen 2:19)

Thus, God gives man power over the creatures with which he would interact, use and control, at least to some degree. And in the latter version, this power is established by man naming the creatures.

How does this relate to God from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named? One could point to God’s renaming of the first Patriarch and his wife: No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a multitude of nations….As for Sarai your wife, do not call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. (Genesis 17:5,15) But this renaming, while symbolic, doesn’t seem to come up to Paul’s every family, particularly since the meaning of the names did not change.[4]

The more plausible explanations are (a) that the Father is the ultimate father, i.e. of the Trinity, His eternal family, and the archetype of all families, and (b) that the same Father both providentially foreordained each family and then created them, thus exhibiting his power over or naming every family in heaven and on earth.

In passing, it is interesting to note that Paul includes families in heaven. Since Jesus pointed out that human, at the resurrection…neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven [Mt 22:30], one must look for a different definition of family. Jesus provides that when asked about his family: For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother. [Mk 3:35; Mt 12:49; Lk 8:21] Here, our heavenly Father is tied directly in to all families, beyond the ties of blood and heritage to the ties of the Kingdom and obedience and love. It is perhaps in this context that every family in heaven and on earth is named by God as his adopted sons and daughters: I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty. [2 Cor 6:18; cf. Eph 1:5].

(To be continued)

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] “The term (Gk. patria) refers to a group of related individuals who trace their origin to a common father or forefather and is linguistically related to the word Father (Gk. pater) in the preceding verse. Because God is the supreme Father of men and angels, his life-giving paternity is the reality of which created fatherhood and family life are only a reflection. (CCC 239, 2214)” Note for Eph 3:15, Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The New Testament: The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible RSV 2nd Catholic Edt (San Frncisco, Ignatius Press, 2010), 349

[3] Note on Eph 3:15, Paul Kobelski, “The Letter to the Ephesians,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Edts. R. Brown, J. Fitzmyer, and R. Murphy (Upper Saddle River, Prentic Hall, 1990), 888.

[4]“Abram and Abraham are merely two forms of the same name, both meaning, “the father is exalted”; another variant form is Abiram (Nm 16:1; 1 Kgs 16:34). The additional -ha- in the form Abraham is explained by popular etymology as coming from ab-hamon goyim, ‘father of a multitude of nations.’”…“Sarai and Sarah are variant forms of the same name, both meaning ‘princess.’” NABRE Notes on Gen 17:5 and 17:15.

Separation or Union

Sin, from Adam and Eve on, makes us co-conspirators, collaborators with the enemy, Eros lovers who seek to possess the other, dominate and control the other. Only obedience to God allows us to be free and to be agape lovers, loving one another without possession, control or domination. Giving in to the serpent’s temptation, Adam and Eve turned away from God.

Sin damages relationships, corrupts them, attempts to enslave others and even God, attempts to force them and Him to conform to my will. Their failure to obey God damaged their relationship with Him. In addition they damaged their relationship with each other, either trying to coerce the other to “eat the apple for my sake;” “Look, I ate it and nothing happened to me….Opps, I never noticed before, we’re naked. I don’t feel right;maybe we better put some clothes on.” Nothing happened???

“Sin” comes from the Old Norse snt-ya which is a collective form from es-ont, “becoming,” via the notion of “to be truly the one.[1]” By sinning, one focuses solely on oneself, trying to become like God, the true One. I close in on myself, rather than flowing out; focuses on my becoming as I direct, rather than focusing on the other. It is ego centric, solipsistic; I become isolated, fearful. My universe collapses, becomes minute, infinitesimal; it revolves around oneself rather than including, joining and revolving with the Creator’s cosmos. It becomes ridiculously comical when observed from the outside.

Even as we faced the consequences of our actions, God’s mercy is present and salvation is promised. We know that in our own lives turning away from God has painful consequences. However, if we choose to follow Jesus and obey God, we find happiness, comfort, strength, truth and salvation. Love heals and solidifies relationships, serves, protects, follows the will of God and others.

Our God is not a harsh judge but rather a loving parent who desires to have all his children together for eternity. We were given a gift called free will and what we do with that gift will determine our destiny. You see, if we choose to ignore the embrace of God, it will not be forced upon us. If we accept God’s love, it will be returned for all time.[2]

Using free will, our most precious gift, we can either choose to embrace God or to reject Him, to accept His love or reject it. It’s there for the taking; we only have to want it, to reach out and accept it.

When I turn away from You, Lord have mercy.

When I turn away from others, Christ have mercy.

When I am afraid to face my sin, Lord have mercy.

[1] “Sin,” Online Etymological Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php? allowed_in_frame=0&search=sin&searchmode=none

[2] “3 minutes a day” 6/3/15; http://www.loyolapress.com/assets/Bookcovers/99979_together-for-eternity.swf