“There’s a danger of two extremes in misunderstanding our identity that can be remedied by reflecting on this passage from Paul.”

The second reading this Sunday is an extraordinary prayer of praise that will likely get missed by most congregations. Second readings are rarely the subject of the homily, and Paul’s sentence structure is such that most of us in the pew may zone out halfway through! In its original Greek, these twelve verses are a single sentence – the longest sentence in the New Testament. 

Paul is writing from his prison cell to the Ephesians but also likely to several of the communities in Asia to which he once ministered. This passage sets up several key themes of the entire letter, including our identity in Christ. It is worth reading the passage several times to understand Paul’s message. In doing so, we will be driven to the same praise and awe as Paul. 

Despite his imprisonment, this passage is overflowing with praise. It is a berakah prayer, a prayer of praise and blessing. Paul is reminding us of our great dignity as adopted sons and daughters of God, but it is not simply an exercise in self-esteem. It does not spur us to pride, but rather to humility and praise. 

There’s a danger of two extremes in misunderstanding our identity that can be remedied by reflecting on this passage from Paul. First, Paul reminds us of our dignity. God loves us. He loves us so much that “He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world” and “in love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ.” When we are tempted to self-hatred, depressed by our sins, or driven to second-guess our worth, we should return to these words of Paul. God does not make trash. He chose you from all eternity. The ineffable, eternal, all-powerful God has adopted you as a son or daughter.

We have an inherent dignity as a human person. We were created not out of accident but intentionally, out of love, in love, for love.

God has created us for greatness, but greatness in Him. The other extreme in misunderstanding our identity is to be swayed by pride. We are created in the image and likeness of God, which means that we share in His creative power. We are capable of inventing, creating, solving, producing, and controlling. If these powers are not seen in proper relation with the Creator, we tempted to be puffed up by our identity and gifts.

Who am I to be called and chosen? Who would choose me or set me apart? And yet that’s precisely what God has done. And so there’s a responsibility, one that that Paul will tackle later in his letter:

“I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received…” (Eph 4:1)

We must spend time reflecting on the enormity of what it means to be chosen, adopted, and redeemed by God. How can we appreciate the friendship with God to which we’ve been called if we do not appreciate the sheer “otherness” of the Creator? If we do not know what we have been given, if we do not know Who has called us, we can get lost in our own pride and self-righteousness. “He has made known to us the mystery of his will,” but the aim and goal of that plan – salvation history – is heaven, not a mere earthly end.  

God loves me, chose me, adopted me, and redeemed me. He wants to reveal the mystery of His plan to me. But if I do not know who God is, the enormity of that will not resonate. If I do strive to know Him and to appreciate what it means to be chosen by God, I will fall before Him with both gratitude and humility. C. S. Lewis described it best when Aslan delivered this powerful reminder in Prince Caspian, “You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve. And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

The person who most perfectly embodied this two-fold understanding of our identity with dignity and humility is Our Blessed Mother, when in her Magnificat she summarizes the mystery of God’s accommodation. Her humility, gratitude, and praise comes from her understanding of the enormity of what it means to be called and redeemed by God. It calls us not to self-loathing, but to praise; not to pride, but to humility.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for He has looked with favor on His humble servant with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him. He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation. (Ephesians 1:3 and Luke 1:47-50)

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