Did you know that the New Testament contains two letters to the Ephesians? In the Book of Revelation, there is a place early in which the author addresses short messages to seven early communities. This is the first of them, to the Church of the premiere city of the Roman Empire in Asia.
Saint John addresses the people, using the words of Jesus:
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write this:
“The one who holds the seven stars in his right hand
and walks in the midst of the seven gold lampstands says this:
“I know your works, your labor, and your endurance,
and that you cannot tolerate the wicked;
you have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not,
and discovered that they are impostors.
Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name,
and you have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you:
you have lost the love you had at first.
Realize how far you have fallen.
Repent, and do the works you did at first.
Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place,
unless you repent.
My first impression is an even-handedness in the diagnosis. Ephesian Christians have good points: they work hard, they resist wickedness, and they are tenacious. On the other hand, they seem to have lost an important youthful quality. So they are called to repent, and to return what worked for them in the past.
This narrative is also striking for its similarity to some groups in today’s Church. Like today’s self-styled orthodox, the Ephesian Church resisted and worked against those they considered “impostors.” But in their opposition to some of their own, they have lost something important, the chief of virtues: love. So they come across to others as cross, uncaring, and rigid.
It’s a mixed message for the Ephesians, and there’s a warning. Repent and renew, or the light will go out.
In considering this passage for personal reflection, are there times when the desire to do good has overpowered the basic virtues of joy and love and consideration? Are our tasks in God’s name so grave, so serious that criticism must be rendered at any cost? Clearly, the message is one of caution. Affirm the good. But keep an eye to the larger matters of virtues and don’t allow the inner self to be corrupted by singleminded opposition to others. In one’s personal life, this probably requires a careful discernment.
For a community, this might be an apt and challenging reading to proclaim at a form II liturgy. The homilist should be prepared to preach on it, or at least allow this text to inform the examination of conscience. You don’t drop a powerful message like this into the Liturgy of the Word then ignore it. That said, it seems a good passage to use during the season of Lent.