The word of the day is “inheritance.” In today’s reading of Ephesians 1:16-23, St. Paul speaks of the inheritance that is in store for all the faithful. He tells the Ephesians that he prays that “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that you may know… what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (vs.18).
Paul begins his letter with the assurance of the birthright of the faithful. He writes, “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). Yet Paul considers that it is not enough for the faithful to believe that they have a promised inheritance. Paul wants them to “know what the hope of His calling is”—“what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance…” (vs. 18). In the Greek text, the word for “know” is based on physical seeing. In our reading, Paul uses it metaphorically to refer to spiritual sight, that is, “perception” ( Strong’s #1492, 77-77).
The Eyes of Our Hearts
For the faithful to gain such insight into their hope in Christ, Paul prays that the “eyes of their understanding” be “enlightened.” The Greek term for “understanding” that Paul uses refers to the “heart” (Strong’s #2588, 128). The heart is the “spiritual center of a man’s being.” Created to reflect the image of God (G.E.H. Palmer 1981, 381), it is the seat of man’s rational, emotional, and moral life (Strong’s #2588, 128). Further, the “eyes of the heart” refer to the “vision” of the heart, the inner self. The eyes represent the mental processes of knowing and understanding (Strong’s #3788, 184).
In the natural state, the eyes of the heart are “darkened. ” Paul says that the Gentiles have “their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance within them, of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:18). To have an inner perception of the inheritance of their hope, the “eyes of the heart” must be “enlightened” (vs. 18). The Greek word “enlightened” has the basic meaning of “to be brightened,” that is, “illuminated” (Strong’s #5461, 268). Those whose minds are darkened have no understanding of the hope of the heirs of God’s promises. In their ignorance, they consider it the wishful thinking of fantasy. But in the light of the Spirit what is hidden is uncovered, what is unknown becomes known, what is a mystery is revealed.
More Than Anyone Can Imagine
The understanding of what God has prepared for the faithful is more than anyone can imagine or envision. But those who grasp it by faith “know” the “riches” of their “future inheritance among the saints” (vs. 18). Paul teaches that these “riches” are not ours in the sense that they are our right to possess. But they are God’s riches, for they belong to Him who gives them to us. The apostle also says that this wealth is unimaginable in its magnificence and priceless worth (Strong’s #4149, 205). Thus, the apostle also speaks of “His riches of the glory of His inheritance” (vs. 18).
In our reading, therefore, we learn the enormous dimensions of our hope in Christ and how we can gain insight into the glorious promise of our inheritance as children of God. In the light of the Spirit, and with the “eyes of the heart,” we catch sight of this future that God has prepared for us.
However, we might ask why we should turn our attention to the glorious future that is promised us when we must believe, struggle, and serve God in the present. Moreover, we are now preparing in earnest for the Feast of the Nativity. Isn’t this celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God enough for us?
Let’s put it this way. Most believe that we must live in the present, for the present is what is real. If we live in the past, we are living in a reality that only exists in our memories. And if we live in the future, we are living in a reality that is only in our imagination.
But the faithful do not live backward but forward. St. Paul wrote, “But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press forward toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13). From this point of view, true reality does not lie in the past. And it does not exist in the present. The apostle writes, “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
Living From the Future
In Colossians, Paul wrote, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:2).
What does it mean to live in hope? It means to live “from” the future. That is, we do not have life in its fullness in the trials of what now is. We have the fullness of life in the expectation of what is to be. Our celebration of the Incarnation, therefore, has meaning in the light of our hope. And our hope is the salvation that is now ours in part by faith but will be ours in its entirety when Christ returns to fulfill the glorious promises of our inheritance.
G.E.H. Palmer, et. al. Trans. 1981. The Philokalia: the Complete Text Vol. 3. New York: Farber and Farber