Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost: The Preeminence of Christ
C. S. Lewis once said, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” Lewis is reminding us that even if good second things get first, we end up with nothing. If your parish is first, your job is first, your family is first—those are good but they have to be second.
In today’s chapter, Saint Paul makes it really clear that Jesus is first and Jesus is everything. Saint Paul is telling us what is at the heart of Christianity.
What do lollipops, truffles, and the Christian life all have in common? It’s what’s at the center that counts! If you get to the middle of your lollipop or truffle and discover nothing, then there is nothing but disappointment.
This may be obvious, but you can’t have the word Christianity without Christ. Otherwise, it’s just ianity. You can’t be a Christian without Christ, then the word is just ian. It doesn’t make sense. And if the chewy-centered Tootsie Pop or truffle of the parish life, or the Christian life, or our prayer life is not Christ, then it’s nothing but a farce and failure.
Here is the center for Paul—and I’m replacing the pronouns with the name of Jesus, so it’s very clear:
Jesus hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of Jesus, In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins; Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For in Jesus were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Jesus and in Jesus. And Jesus is before all, and by Jesus all things consist. And Jesus is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things Jesus may hold the primacy: Because in Jesus, it hath well pleased the Father, that all fullness should dwell; And through Jesus reconcile all things unto Jesus, making peace through the blood of Jesus’ cross, both as to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven. (Colossians 1:13-20, my changes in italics)
Jesus first and Jesus everywhere.
The word to describe this is preeminence. That big word means Jesus is first and everything.
That’s what Saint Paul is telling us in Colossians 1: Jesus is the center, not the circumference. My favorite part of Saint Paul’s praise is in verse 18 where he states “that in all things he may hold the primacy” There is no place Jesus is not first and preeminent.
You are familiar, no doubt, with one of the most famous paintings ever done by any artist: “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, that classic portrayal of Christ and the twelve apostles at the table. Many stories have sprung up over the centuries about the painting. Many students of art history believe that the painting, when first created, was different from the version we now see. They believe that initially, an exquisite lace border ran the outside length of the tablecloth. Upon completion, when da Vinci invited a group of art students to view his masterpiece, they were impressed by the delicate design of that lacework and praised its exquisite design. Upon seeing the reaction of these young men, the artist grabbed a paint brush and proceeded to paint over the lace. “Now, you fools, look at the face of Christ!”
Da Vinci said it. The apostle Paul is doing the same.