Today’s solemnity is entitled “Jesus Christ the King of the Universe.” The universe is huge. People talk about their “personal savior” but how personal can the Savior be in a universe? The Letter to the Colossians (Col 1:12-20) assures us that, as huge as the universe may be, we are not insignificant pieces. Instead Jesus really is a personal Savior.
There have been special times in each of our lives, when something very good happened that we never expected, such as meeting a future spouse, receiving a promotion or a scholarship. And we wondered, how did this happen?
The Letter to the Colossians goes beyond what we ever expected: “Give thanks to the Father for having made us worthy to share the lot of the saints in light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13).
We have been found “worthy to share with the saints in light” and He has “rescued us from the power of darkness.” The Father helps us in many steps along the way each day but bringing us from the power of darkness into the kingdom of His Son is the greatest we could ever hope for.
When I returned to Kenya, last July, I discovered that I wasn’t misreading my ticket. I had been upgraded from the economy seat to a more expensive seat. I am not sure how it happened but I suspect my niece and her husband, who arranged my ticket, had something to do with it.
I was at a loss how to conduct myself in this new environment. How do you strike up a conversation with a successful business person? “How are your investments doing?” They would, of course, be mystified when I confided that turkeys and chickens are my own best investment.
Yet Colossians tells us that the Father is upgrading us to be with the saints in light in the kingdom of His Son. How did this happen? Thomas Aquinas explains that people often make a mistake in thinking that “… the gifts of grace are given because of a person’s merit, and that God gives grace to those who are worthy, and does not give grace to those who are unworthy” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 24).
Instead, Thomas assures us: “Whatever worth and grace we have is given to us by God, and so also are the effects of grace” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 24).
The Latin word for “grace,” gratia, also means a “gift.” God’s graces to us and the effects of those graces are gifts as well. Thomas recalls Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).
Because Christians believe in original sin and in personal responsibility for sins, people might expect that Christians take a dim view of human nature. Actually, Thomas insists on the basic goodness of human nature: “All people are good in their very nature; consequently, they somehow partake of God” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 24).
But along with good nature, we have the capacity to choose other things than God, as Thomas acknowledges, “… it is done by choosing, as when a person selects this and another one that” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 25).
If we make God a priority of our lives, it is our choice. Even so, grace helps us to choose, as Jesus tells His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:16).
We can always choose the darkness. I might have missed the comradery of my old friends huddled in the back of the plane. People back there really don’t care what you invest in. I could have asked the stewardess to take me back to row 249, seat H.
When we chose sin, we see it as freedom. We don’t realize right away that sin entangles us. Thomas believes that without grace, we are “slaves of sin.” Jesus declared, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (Jn. 8:34). When “sin” has a power over us, we live “in the power of darkness.” We are caught in the web of our negative habits.
According to Isaiah, we blame God for disregarding us. In fact, our sins block us from seeing or hearing God: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear” (Is 59:2). Rather than God hiding His face from us: we block it.
If we think about it, we can recognize our own “darkness.” God takes us out of our personal darkness “into the lot of the saints in light” (Col 1:13). Thomas observes: “From it there follows the effect of grace, i.e., our transference from darkness to light” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 25).
This transformation is possible because Jesus is the “beloved Son”: “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand” (Jn 3:35).
If sin is selfishness, Christ, even though He is the Son, breaks the power of selfishness by giving Himself for us. Thomas explains that the Son, in His humanity, offered Himself for us to the Father and in His divinity brought us forgiveness.
Thomas says, “As man, He became a sacrifice for us and redeemed us in His blood; and so Paul says: ‘You were bought with a price’ (1 Cor. 6:20); and from Christ, as God, we have the forgiveness of sins, because He took away our debt of punishment” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 28).
We don’t see God directly but we see the Son, as Colossians declares, the Son is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).
The Son is also called the “Word of God” and the “Image of God.” The Letter to the Hebrews declares: “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature, upholding the universe by His word of power. When He had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:3).
The Letter to the Colossians states: “In Him, all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible or invisible – all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col 1:16).
Thomas recognizes the Son’s role in creation as the “Word”: “The Son is seen as a word representing every creature, and He is the principle of every creature” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 35).
Thomas explains that an artisan creates a thing according to the idea that he has in his mind, which is his/her “wisdom”: “This is the way God is said to make all things in His wisdom, because the wisdom of God is related to His created works just as the art of the builder is to the house he has made. Now this form and wisdom is the Word; and thus in Him all things were created, as in an exemplar” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 37).
Genesis announces: “He spoke and they were made” (Gen 1). Thomas reflects: “He created all things to come into existence in His eternal Word” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 37). The Letter to the Hebrews states: “By faith we understand that the world was framed by the word of God; that from invisible things visible things might be made” (Heb 11:3).
The Gospel of John affirms: “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:3). Thomas understands that the Son is the “efficient cause” by which creation came into being and the “exemplary cause,” the model of created things (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 42).
The Letter to the Colossians asserts: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:17). Thomas comments: “For God is to things as the sun is to the moon, which loses its light when the sun leaves. And so, if God took His power away from us, all things would immediately cease to exist” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 44). Thomas recalls the Letter to the Hebrews, which said that God was, “Upholding the universe by His word of power” (Heb 1:3).
Colossians declares: “He is the head of the body, the Church” (Col 1:18). Thomas explains that the Church is like a human body because it has distinct members: “And His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelist, some pastors and teachers” (Eph 4:11). The members care for each other in different ways: “The members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25); “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).
The body has a soul, which is the Spirit: “The Church is one because the Spirit is one: “There is one body and one Spirit” (Eph 4:4); “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17).
Christ is the “head”: “He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead” Thomas teaches that the Church exists in the “state of grace in the present time, and the state of glory in the future.” Thomas adds: “It is the same Church, and Christ is its head in both states, because He is the first in grace and the first in glory” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 48).
Christ is not only the first in grace in His humanity but others are justified by faith in Him: “By one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). Christ is “pre-eminent in the gifts of grace, because He is the beginning; and pre-eminent in the gifts of glory, because He is the first-born” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 49).
Colossians states: “In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19). Thomas comments: “Christ had all graces; and so he says, that in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 50). John says that Christ was “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14),
Colossians announces: “And through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His Cross” (Col 1:20). Thomas reflects that “Christ is the head of the Church because of an inflow from Him… It pleased God not only that this fullness exist in Christ, but that it also flow from Christ to us; and so he says, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself’ (2 Cor. 5:19) (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 51-52).
Thomas explains that people are reconciled when they agree after having conflicting wills: “Wills that were before in conflict are made to harmonize in Christ. This harmony was accomplished by the blood of His cross… Christ destroyed sin by His cross and fulfilled the law; and thus He took away the causes of discord” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 53).
Thomas recalls that when Christ was born the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” (Lk 2:14). After His Resurrection, Christ announced to His disciples: “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). The Letter to the Ephesians declares: “For He is our peace, who has made us both one” (Eph 2:14).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from St. Thomas’ Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians are taken from the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/