The Rite of Penance number 158 cites Ephesians 4:1-3, 17-32 as a choice for the sacrament. We looked at verses 1-3 in this post. By skipping verses 4-16, the Lectionary assemblers linked the appeal for unity to a laundry list of sins of sorts.
A bit of background: the last three chapters of the letter to the Ephesians gives detailed instructions for the faith community. Take my good advice, the apostle says.
Verses 17-24 outline how believers must make a separation from the past they had without Christ:
So I declare and testify in the Lord
that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,
in the futility of their minds;
darkened in understanding,
alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance,
because of their hardness of heart,
they have become callous
and have handed themselves over to licentiousness
for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.
That is not how you learned Christ,
assuming that you have heard of him
and were taught in him,
as truth is in Jesus,
that you should put away the old self of your former way of life,
corrupted through deceitful desires,
and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new self,
created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.
Do these sins have any resonance: mental futility, ignorance, hardness of heart, callousness, licentiousness, impurity? Paul suggests that these believers have a higher calling. The presumption is that this letter’s hearers once were steeped in pagan religion which encouraged, permitted, or ignored these values.
The believer is called to renewal. Believers are not perfect. We have histories. There are aspects we would rather not emphasize.
But in engaging this sacrament, I think we have to acknowledge past sins to the degree that we can outline what we won’t do anymore. Or what we don’t want to do anymore. And we ask God to guide us in doing better. That is where the final verses of this reading will lead us. Paul chides the Ephesians, “Don’t do this!” Then he tells them, “Do this instead.”