As he does in so many of his letters, St. Paul includes an early Christian hymn as an introduction to the teaching which he will impart in his letter to the Colossians. Problems had arisen in the community of Colossae, which had been founded by Epaphras. These problem were brought on by teachers who emphasized Christ’s relationship to the universe or cosmos. Their teachings stressed angels, principalities and powers which were connected with astral powers and cultic practices as well as rules about food and drink and ascetical disciplines. These teachings, Paul insists, detract from the person and work of Christ for salvation as set forth magnificently in this hymnic passage and which is reiterated throughout the letter. He maintains that such teachings are but “shadows” whereas Christ is “reality.”
St. Paul does not dismiss the notion that heaven is filled with creatures such as angels. However, he stresses that Jesus is the sum total of all redemptive power. The other creatures of heaven are regarded simply as members of God’s court, an image that is based upon our human understanding of a king who is surrounded by various courtiers.
St. Paul goes on to teach that the spiritual renewal of the human person occurs through contact in baptism with the person of Christ, who died and rose again. It is unnecessary for the Christian to be concerned about placating spirits or avoiding imagined defilement through ascetical practices in regard to food and drink. True Christian asceticism consists in the conquering of personal sins and the practice of love of neighbor in accordance with the standard set by Christ.
This teaching is seconded by our Gospel passage today. Fasting as a spiritual discipline is part of every religion known to humankind. However, Jesus asserts that fasting has its time and its place. He goes on to tell a parable which expressly counters the teachings which have upset the community of Colossae. While the cultic practices espoused by these teachers may be good in and of themselves, Jesus teaches that older practices must give way to newer observances.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator