Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Something is wrong with the church in Ephesus. And many things are nearly perfect. John is given a message to deliver to the Ephesians. What's nearly perfect? “I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate the wicked. . .” And what's wrong? “Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first.” The Church in Ephesus—probably the most important local church at the time, certainly the largest—was nurtured by Paul for three years and bequeathed to Timothy. When Paul arrived in Ephesus, he found a group of believers there who had been baptized by John the Baptist but had not yet received the Holy Spirit. So, he made Ephesus his headquarters while he evangelized the region. The Lord, recognizing a zealous faith among the Ephesians, instructs John to say to them, “. . . you have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary.” They are hard-workers, determined believers. But they've lost something vital. They've lost compassion. “Realize how far you have fallen,” the Lord warns, “Repent, and do the works you did at first.”
Though you may be a parishioner in NOLA, are you also a member of the Church of Ephesus? Chances are we all know a Christian like the ones in Ephesus. Hard-worker for the Church, a real work horse when there are things that need to be done. A solid soul who brooks no-nonsense or monkey-business with the faith. Fearless in defending the Church; fierce when presented by lay or clerical corruption; able to sniff out a religious phoney in seconds and is not shy about saying so. This Christian's diligence, industry, and zealous determination make him/her a target for the less rigorous souls in the family and a real pain-in-the-rear for anyone outside the family who dares speaks against us. We can all see that he/she frequently suffers for the sake of Christ. But there may be a problem. The Lord sends this message: “You have lost the love you had at first.” Diligence in defending the orthodox faith; zeal in confronting sin; hard-work, rigorous moral standards. . .all of these are worthless unless they are done with the “love you had at first.” The love that first seduced you into repentance and keeps you enthralled to follow the Narrow Way. All of the virtues of the Ephesians are one step away from becoming damning vices. The wall btw saving virtue and damning vice is compassion.
Twice the blind man cries out to Jesus for compassion, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Jesus calls to the man, “What would you have me do for you?” The man pleads, “Lord, please let me see.” Jesus not only heals his blindness, he also confirms the man's faith and his salvation, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.” To understand this miraculous event, we have to hear it on two levels simultaneously: the physical and the spiritual. The man's dead eyes are renewed so that they function as they ought. And his spiritual ignorance—his darkness in sin and death—is enlightened by his faith in Christ. This is his first encounter with God's loving-kindness, His compassion. If the newly healed man hopes to continue along the Narrow Way to eternal life, he will place this first encounter with the Christ at the center of his being, making it the source and summit of everything word and deed he says and does for the rest of his life. If he will avoid the fault of the Ephesians, he will make all his works until his last exactly like his first: love God, cry out for His compassion, and receive it with thanksgiving!