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Paying our Debt

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

Each of St. Paul's letters tends to end in a similar fashion. Once St. Paul has fully exposed the theological truths which prompted the letter, he regularly turns to the practical aspects of Christian living and urges his readers to remember to act in a manner appropriate for those who have been saved by faith. While it may seem that such codes of Christian behavior are simply a matter of keeping the commandments, there is something much more basic at work in these codes.

St. Paul can hardly urge us to simply obey the commandments of the Old Testament. After all, he has told us over and over again that we are no longer bound by the Law, that we have been set free from the slavery that the Law has imposed upon us. This is certainly true in the Letter to the Ephesians. So why do these so-called "household codes" sound so much like the commandments?

Actually, St. Paul is urging us to do something much more basic in the Middle Eastern culture; namely, to pay a debt. In the Middle Eastern way of thinking, saying "thank you" is a waste of breath. If one is indebted to another, it is far more important to pay the debt. If someone has done something for you, it is only right for you to do something for that person in return. This is the thought pattern that is at work in the "household codes." Through the death of Jesus and our baptism into the death, we have been enlightened or brought out of darkness into the light. It is incumbent for us, then, to act in a way appropriate for someone who has been given this gift. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. (Ephesians 5:8) Indeed, we are called upon to pay back the debt we own for our redemption.

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