If you ask any Christian how Jesus saved us, the Christian would instantly point to the Cross. Yet, when the Church speaks of the Paschal Mystery, it means both Jesus’ death and His Resurrection have an effect upon us. In what way does Jesus’ Resurrection affect us? It might seem that the Resurrection is something that happened to Jesus personally; God’s acceptance of His self-offering. How does the Resurrection relate to us?
Today’s second reading (Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11) speaks of our being “raised up… with Christ”: “You have been raised up in company with Christ” (Col 3:1).
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “The benefit that we have received is that, with the resurrection of Christ, we also have risen.” Jesus’ Resurrection is from the dead, but in what sense can Colossians understand that we rise when we don’t seem to have changed.
In fact, our lives are very much changed because of the Resurrection. Without life after death our purpose in life would be just to live as best we can. The first reading, from the Book of Ecclesiastes to day asks, “What has a man from all the toil and strain with which he toils beneath the sun?” (Ecc 2:21).
The promise of life after death gives our lives a new meaning. Our lives are going somewhere; they have a meaning. If Christ rose, then we can hope in His promise that we too will rise. Thomas Aquinas points out that we have “a hope for our bodily resurrection.”
Paul insisted: “Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12).
According to Thomas, “Paul is saying in effect: When Christ arose, you also arose… He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.”
We are also changed by the Resurrection because nt only are our sins taken away by Jesus’ suffering but we enter into a new relationship with God. Paul states: “He was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25).
Thomas understands Jesus’ being raised for our justification to mean “… with the resurrection of Christ we are restored to the life of justice.” Thomas explains:
In both cases the effect brought about by the power of God is said to be caused by Christ’s death and resurrection… the passion and death of Christ are properly the causes of the remission of our faults, for we die to sin. The resurrection, on the other hand, more properly causes the newness of life through grace or justice (Summa Theologiae, 3a. 56, 2, ad 4).
Because of the Resurrection, we know that we will continue living, despite physical death.
In addition, we also can live in a new way, without being weighed down by sin.
Because of the hope that we have, we can look at life in a refreshed way. Colossians instructs us “seek what is above” (Col 3:1).
What does it mean to “seek what is above”? If we are going to rise and if we can be released from our sins, then we can live in a new way. Our priorities are different. Living as Jesus did has become our priority,
Thomas explains that we should look to the “principal end” and then “should judge other things in the light of that end.” For instance, a football player always keeps an eye on the goal and all his actions are to move the ball towards the goal.
Jesus said: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:33). God’s kingdom is the priority and everything else in our lives should be measured by that.
Being with God is our priority: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” (Ps 27:4).
Colossians says: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand” (Col 3:1). Thomas traces the New Testament description of Jesus sitting “at God’s right hand,” to Psalm 110:1, where God declares to the new king, “Sit at my right hand.”
Thomas points out that this is meant “figuratively,” since God doesn’t have a body. For many people, the right hand or arm is stronger than the left. In this way, Christ sits at the right hand of the Father because, in His humanity, Christ, is joined with the “stronger and better goods of the Father.” In His divinity, “Christ is equal to the Father.”
We seek what is related to Christ who is seated with the Father.
The Letter to the Colossians declares: “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things of earth” (Col 3:2). Thomas explains that we should have the intention to “die to sin in order to live a life of justice and so be taken up into glory… We arose through Christ; but He is seated at the right hand of God, and so our desire should be to be with Him.” Jesus announced: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21).
People who long for a certain place say that their “heart” is there. As Christians, our hearts are where Christ is. According to Thomas, “We should judge other things in the light of Christ, governing our lives by Christ and judging all other things by Him.”
We ask Christ to show us what He wants in the different situations of our lives. This is “The wisdom from above” of which James speaks (Jas. 3:17).
As humans we continually evaluate events and determine what to do according to our values, which may be those of our society. Thomas observes: “A person sets his mind on things that are on earth when he orders and judges all things according to earthly goods, considering them the highest goods: ‘They glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things’” (Phil 3:19).
The Letter to the Colossians instructs us: “You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). Paul said: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11).
Thomas reflects: “Do not set your minds on earthly things, because you have died to an earthly way of life. And a person who has died to this kind of life does not set his mind on the things of this world. This is the way you should act if you have died, with Christ, to the elements of this world.”
Thomas adds, “When he said, ‘consider yourselves dead,’ he followed this with, ‘and alive.’” Notice that the emphasis is more on the ways we are ‘alive’ with Christ than on the ways that we are ‘dead.’”
Colossians declares: “your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). Thomas instructs us that we have “another life”: “We acquire this life through Christ.” The First Letter of Peter affirms: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).
Thomas explains: “Because this life is obtained through Christ, and Christ is hidden from us because He is in the glory of the Father, this life which is given to us through Him is also hidden, namely, where Christ is, in the glory of the Father.”
Colossians affirms that “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory” (Col 3:4). Thomas explains:
Paul says, when Christ who is our life appears, because He is the Author of our life, and because our life consists in knowing and loving Him: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Gal 2:20). When Christ appears then you also will appear: “When He appears we shall be like Him” (1 Jn 3:2), that is, in glory…
We should not pass over Thomas’ words, “Our life consists in knowing and loving Him.” According to Thomas, that is what life is all about. Christ is not at a distance: “Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
Thomas shows from the principle that our lives are hidden with Christ, our actions should follow, avoiding sin and practicing good habits. Colossians declares “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly” (Col 3:5).
Thomas explains that our lives involve many actions but for these actions to be good there must be a certain order: “In a good life, prudence is like the eye, which directs a person; and courage is like the feet, which support and carry him.” Prudence indicates the good way that we do our actions. Courage gives us strength to do these actions in a good way.
Evil deeds are done in the opposite way, as Thomas shows, “In an evil life, craftiness becomes the eye, and obstinacy becomes the feet. Therefore, these members must be put to death.” According to Thomas, we must put to death the ways that are disingenuous and resistant to God.
Being alive in Christ means that we are alive with healing grace, even if we struggle, as Thomas observes:
To the extent we have died to sin, to that extent we are alive with grace. For the life of grace heals us with respect to our mind; but not entirely as to our body, because it retains a tendency to sin: “I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Rom 7:25) and…“I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members” (Rom 7:23).
Paul knew this conflict from his own experience: “I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to other, I myself shall be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27).
Thomas notes that some sins are carnal and some partly carnal. Thomas observes, that although these actions may “accord with the nature of man as animal, they are not fitting to it as rational, because every sin is opposed to reason.” Thomas’ emphasis on the reason as a guide is a key principle in his understanding of the human person.
Among the sins to be put to death are: “immorality, impurity and passion, evil desire and covetousness which is idolatry” are specified in Colossians (Col 3:5). Other vices are “evil desire, greed… anger, fury, malice, slander, obscene language…” (Col 3:8).
The way that “covetousness” becomes idolatry is illustrated by the man in today’s Gospel (Luke 12:13-21), who builds new barns to store his surplus, without realizing that he will die that very night. Thomas comments on the reason why greed is idolatry: “… a covetous person puts his very life in money. We have idolatry when someone gives to some image the honor owed to God; but a covetous person gives to money the honor owed to God, because he builds his whole life around it.” Still, Thomas acknowledges that since greed is compared to idolatry it is less a sin than idolatry.
The Letter to the Colossians instructs us: “You have taken off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator” (Col 3:9-10).
Thomas reflects that as “one puts off what is old, he should put on what is new” As Jesus says, “No one sews an old patch on a new garment,” (Mt 9:16). Thomas comments: “This old nature, this old self, is approaching decay, because sin is the road to decay. In addition, sin destroys virtue and spiritual beauty.”
Our nature becomes old because of sin, as Thomas explains: “This old nature, therefore, or old self, is the oldness of sin.” Paul says: ““We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed” (Rom 6:6). Likewise the Letter to the Ephesians proclaims: ““Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts” (Eph 4:22).
Thomas explains that grace renews the mind: “The new nature or self is the mind, renewed from within, because before grace our mind is subject within to sin, and when it is renewed by grace it becomes new” Thomas recalls the verse of the psalm: “Your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Ps 103:5).
Paul wrote: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal 6:15). Thomas affirms: “This new creation is renewing grace.” He admits: “There is an oldness that still remains in our flesh.”
Nevertheless, even while living with the attraction to sin, the Christian can live a new life: “If you follow the judgment of the new nature, the new self, you are putting on the new nature or new self; while if you lust according to the desires of the flesh, you are putting on the old self or nature.” The Letter to the Ephesians affirms: “Put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24).
From the Letter to the Colossians, “put on the new self, which is being renewed for knowledge, in the image of its creator,” Thomas understands that the inner self is made new by faith and knowledge of God: “… the inner self, having become old by its ignorance of God, is made new by faith and the knowledge of God.” Paul wrote: “We are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).
Thomas identifies the mind as the human element that is renewed: “And where is this renewal taking place? It is taking place where the image of God is, and this is not in the sense faculties, but in the mind. And so Paul says, after the image of its creator. In other words, the image of God in us is being renewed.”
Thomas understands Colossians 3:11, “Christ is all and in all” to mean that all people are invited to this renewal: “This renewal is for everyone, otherwise it would not pertain to human nature as such. And this renewal pertains to all because it was accomplished with respect to what is common to all.”
Thomas considers the differences between male and female to be only physical: “because men and women do not differ in mind, but in their physical sex.” Thomas comments on the lack of differences among those who are in Christ so that there are neither Jews or Gentiles, free people or slaves:
But there is no difference in Christ … in Christ they are all alike… Therefore, none of these differences exist in Christ, but Christ is all, and in all. For circumcision is obtained through Christ alone, and freedom comes from Christ alone. If you are not free, Christ is your freedom; if you are not circumcised, Christ is your circumcision, and so on. And Christ is in all, because He gives His gifts to all.
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/