In Ephesians, as in other epistles, St. Paul fills the last half of the letter with practical advice for Christian living. Here he advises “masters” to “forebear threatening.” Most of us live in circles of relationships in which we are at various times and in various contexts master or slave, parent or child, elder or younger. Almost no one is always only “wife” or always only “child” or always only “master.” However, as a grandfather, experienced teacher and a priest, I often find myself in relationships in which I am master (i.e. supervisor, adviser, mentor, teacher, evaluator, disciplinarian, leader, authority).
I have been paying attention lately to how often I feel compelled to threaten. I am not tempted to threaten in any gross or physically violent way. I merely want to point out certain possible negative out comes. I want to tell someone what might happen if…. I want to energize and motivate certain people by telling them what could happen if they aren’t more this way and less that way.
In discussing this with Bonnie this morning, she said, with the innocent brutality that only thirty years of loving marriage provide, “sounds like witchcraft to me.” And taking another sip of coffee she looked out the window and said, “I need you to cut down the weeds around the garden again.” Ah, the gentle violence of love.
When it comes right down to it, any attempt to manipulate the behavior of others in a hidden way is a form of witchcraft (the pointy hat is optional). This is a subtle matter. Warning and teaching are God-appointed duties for parents, priests and others who are entrusted with such responsibilities. Godly instruction and self-willed threatening may differ only in the attitude of the teacher. When I sense within myself an agenda, a goal for the other that the other is not aware of, then my “teaching” is coming dangerously close to manipulation.