A Reflection on The Letter to the Ephesians 4:17, 20-24 N.A.B.
By: Larry T
One of the most important life lessons we can teach our children is the ageless wisdom of Proverbs 13:20:
Walk with the wise and you will become wise,
but the companion of fools fares
badly - Proverbs 13:20 N.A.B.
And, because it emphasizes using care in choosing the friends and people they associate with, we should repeat it to them often.
Understandably, this subject was weighing heavily on St. Paul’s mind as he composed his letter to the Ephesians and made this bold statement:
17 So I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; 18 darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart, 19 they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess. - Ephesians 4:17-19 N.A.B.
If we are going to fully comprehend, “you must no longer live as the Gentiles do” we have to familiarize ourselves with the lifestyle of Ephesus at time of Paul’s writing. In the New Testament era Ephesus was the fourth largest city in the world, behind Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. And it was home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the great temple of the Greek goddess Artemis (or Diana, according to her Roman name). Whereas Diana was worshiped in most Greek cities as a secondary deity, in Ephesus Diana was a prominent deity and worshipped as a fertility goddess. The Ephesians proudly and jealously claimed her as their own goddess. For over a thousand years Diana and her temple provided the focal point for the rich religious, economic, and cultural life of Ephesus. Part of the cult of Diana was the use of ritual prostitution whereby the devotee became joined with the goddess through her priestesses, thereby ensuring her favor throughout the year. So it was that educated prostitutes affiliated with Diana worship controlled the city. Beyond that, Ephesus was a hotbed of wizards, sorcerers, witches, astrologers, diviners of the entrails of animals and people who could read one's fortune by looking at the palm of one’s hand.
Such was the society from which Paul’s recently formed community of Jesus-followers emerged. Paul worried over the possibility that his converts might give in to the temptation of reverting back to the old ways of the Diana-followers, who by his description had given themselves over to “every kind of impurity to excess”. Doesn’t every parent worry that their child might get in with the wrong crowd? Therefore, even though his flock of believers had to remain physically integrated with the broader community which included nonbelievers and Diana-followers, they were to behave as true followers of Jesus. Does his concern echo Proverbs 13:20, Walk with the wise . . .?
In some respects, the modern society, that our children are thrust into is similar to Ephesus of St. Paul’s time, so parents need to equip them to cope with it, and the wisdom of Proverbs 13:20 can help.
What about adults? What value does the wisdom of Proverbs 13:20 have for an adult living in our modern society? Just last week the following headline appeared on the front page of our local newspaper: “Mom’s Boyfriend Arrested After 2-Year Old Suffers Skull Fracture”. Sadly, events like it seem to be commonplace in our society; when the initial shock of it fades away we can’t help but wonder, what was that Mom thinking.
“Walk with the wise and you will become wise, but the companion of fools fares badly.” We should repeat it and think it often, even bore our children with it.
And, for those of us wishing to advance in our own prayer life, Saint Theresa of Avila goes so far as to offer this bit of advice concerning companionship: “the soul should avoid a close association with evil and mediocre people and make it a point to mix with the good, . . .”