Lectionary Year A
March 10, 2002
Ephesians 5:8-14

Step V: Distillation

A. Summary of Salient Features

(DS)Why is light mentioned? Compare life of God's children to light? Then what should light do and how?

(CB)Still a work in progress! Of interest to me is light vs. dark, not only in its historical context but also in its implications for living a life of faith in God in today's day and age, post 9-11. I may try to tie into Wesley's natural state moving on to perfection as well as looking at Wesley's three-fold understanding of grace. (Or not!). There is room, in the history of tradition, for how this text might be significant throughout the ages.

(CA)Many of the questions raised in the earlier exegetical steps of this passage organize under two issues: 1) the genre of the passage, and 2) the development of images of darkness and light in it. An analysis of these two features in the passage itself and in the context of the rest of Ephesians helps to draw meaning from the pericope.

The tone of the pericope is ethical exhortation. Of the verbs in the passage, 4 are forms of "to be." Of the remaining 8 verbs, six are particularly significant. Five are imperatives to the Christian: walk, take part in, expose, wake up and rise up. These are the duties of one who is/wishes to be "in the light of the Lord." Verse 13 says that all exposed by the light is made visible or revealed. And, finally, in verse 14 Christ will illuminate or shine on one who follows the commands. The faithful will be in the light. The liturgical/hymnal tone of verse 14 was discussed in earlier steps of the exegesis. It is interesting to note that two of the five commands, "awake" and "rise up," as well as the significant verb of Christ's future action - Christ will illuminate/shine on you (or "Christ will give you light" in the RSV) all occur in this last verse.

So what is the significance of the passage? Step IV of the exegesis included word studies of light and dark. In this section, I wish to put those images in pericope 5: 8-14 in conversation with other passages of Ephesians. Chapter 1:17 - 18 sets up the imagery. [I pray] "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation [emphasis is mine] in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you" (RSV). Chapter 2:1 - 2 informs the listener why God needed to bring light to his people: they walked through the world dead through their trespasses and sins. In 4:17 - 18 Christians are admonished to no longer live as the Gentiles do, "in the futility of their minds" (RSV). The Gentiles are "darkened" in their understanding, alienated from God because of their ignorance. In their darkness they practice every kind of uncleanliness. Christians are urged to put on a new nature "created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ibid, 4: 24). Chapter 5 opens urging the faithful to be imitators of God, to walk in love. The faithful are urged to walk away from darkness. The motif? God, through Jesus, opens the eyes of our once darkened hearts and enables us to see and walk in love. While the final chapter of Ephesians admonishes Christians to put on "the breastplate of righteousness" (6:14) and uses images not germane to this particular discussion, it reminds the faithful that the struggle is not against "flesh and blood" but against the principalities, powers, rulers of "this present darkness" (RSV, 6:12). To walk in faith in love is to live in the light; to remain ignorant is to succumb to the darkness within us.

B. Smoother Translation

(DS)8: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.
9: For the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth
10: discerning what is acceptable to the Lord.
11: And do not take the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather show them.
12: For it is shameful even to say the things done by them in secret.
13: but everything shown up by the light is revealed.
14: For everything revealed is light. Therefore it says, "Awake, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

(CB)8. For once you all were darkness, but now but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9. (for the fruit of light is in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10. testing what is pleasing to the Lord, 11. and do not participate with others in unfruitful actions of darkness, but even more so and by your conviction expose them. 12. For it is shameful to speak of the base things done in secret, 13. but all things being convicted by means of the light is being revealed, 14. for everything is being revealed by means of the light.

(CA)8. 8. For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light -
9. for the fruit of light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth in word and action -
10. discerning what is pleasing to the Lord
11. and do not participate in the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather bring them to light.
12. For it is shameful to even speak of the things done by them in secret,
13. but anything exposed by the light is revealed,
14. for all revealed is light. Therefore, it is said,
"Awake, Sleeping One, and Arise from the dead, and Christ will illuminate you."

C. Hermeneutical Bridge

(DS)Those who believe in Jesus Christ are not in darkness any more, but their identities are changed to the children of God. Children of God can never be back to the darkness. Rather, what they have to do is to let those who are still in darkness know who Jesus Christ is. The change of status and identity in God finally brings the light to the darkness. Therefore, the life of Christian is to be light. Through sermon, congregation can know who I am and what I must do under the grace of God.

(CB)The play, GODSPELL, is one that originally opened in 1971 in Greenwich Village. A work in progress by John-Michael Tebelak of a Master's level theatrical conception into its present day form, this play is loosely based on the Gospel of Matthew and is presented in modern day times. The song, "Light of the World," though inspired from Mt. 5:14-16, seems to have relevance to the Ephesians text in its call to the believer to become light! (not to mention salt and the city of God). As in the Ephesians text, there are expectations of those who are called by God to walk in the light. The light not only exposes/reveals what has gone wrong with God's good intention for the created order, especially of humanity, it is a call whereby when one witnesses the actions of one of the light, the world just might become a better place. Some of the lyrics of "Light of the World" include:

You are the light of the world!
You are the light of the world!
But if that light is under a bushel,
It's lost something kind of crucial
You've got to stay bright to be the light of the world….

(Chorus) So let your light so shine before men
Let your light so shine
So that they might know some kindness again
We all need help to feel fine (let's have some wine!)….

You are the light of the world
You are the light of the world
But the tallest candlestick
Aint much good without a wick
You've got to live right to be the light of the world.
Though simplistic, perhaps, in its lyrical manifestation, these words of hope [in and through Jesus Christ] transcend space and time to speak to an audience far removed from it's original, contextual roots. Can I hear an "Amen?!"

(CA)In verse 14 of the pericope we hear, "Awake, Sleeping One, and Arise from the dead, and Christ will illuminate you." As this liturgical line echoes, I think of a contemporary poem by Marge Piercy title "Amidah: On our feet we speak to you." The poem opens, "We rise to speak/ a web of bodies aligned like notes of music." In its third movement the poem continues:

All living are one and holy, let us remember
as we eat, as we work, as we walk and drive.
All living are one and holy, we must make ourselves worthy…

We will try to be holy,
we will try to repair the world given to us to hand on.
Precious is this treasure of words and knowledge and deeds
that moves inside us.
Holy is the hand that works for peace and for justice,
holy is the mouth that speaks for goodness,
holy is the foot that walks toward mercy.

Let us lift each other on our shoulders and carry each other along.
Let holiness move in us.
Let us pay attention to its small voice.
Let us see the light in others and honor that light.
Remember the dead who paid our way here dearly, dearly
and remember the unborn for whom we build our houses.

Praise the light that shines before us, through us, after us.

Once we were darkness but by grace, through faith, we now live in the light. The poem, like the pericope, reminds us that, although God brought us into light, we must as loving and responsible human beings live that light in honor and righteousness. The poem reminds us that walking in the light requires us to seek the light in others and to honor it as we encounter it. Not only are we to praise God for the light "that shines before us," we must honor that light with our actions and serve God through serving others. Piercy's poem helps me to articulate in a liturgical manner to today's audience what the gift of light requires of them.

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