By Ed Little
A Reading from Colossians 1:24-2:7
24 I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.
1 For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. 2 I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
“When Christ calls a man,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “he bids him come and die.” Following Jesus is hard, painful, sometimes perilous. “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake,” St. Paul tells his readers, “and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of … the Church.” He doesn’t spell out the nature of these afflictions, but 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 gives us a good idea of what he’s talking about. Paul’s apostolic calling puts him in danger. He suffers with Jesus, for Jesus, and for the sake of his brothers and sisters.
There is much in this brief reading that is positive and encouraging. Paul reminds his readers that God “chose to make known how great among the Gentiles” — among whom are the Colossians, and us — “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Jesus lives in them! And so, Paul says, “I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” All of this is only possible, however, because Paul has embraced the cruciform life.
In the Great Fifty Days of Easter, when alleluias resound, the lectionary wisely returns our attention to the cross. As William Penn put it, “No Cross, No Crown.” The two are inextricably linked, both in the life and ministry of Jesus and in our own. It is unlikely that we will be called upon to suffer as Paul did, or Bonhoeffer, or countless martyrs past and present. But Jesus bids us to follow him faithfully, whatever that means in the specifics of our discipleship. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord,” Paul concludes, “continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).
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