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Commentary on The Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians

1:1 Paul: Named as the sender of the letter. For a discussion of Pauline authorship, see introduction: Author and notes on Eph 3:8 and 6:20. apostle of Christ: Paul was formally commissioned by Jesus to carry the gospel to "the Gentiles" and "the sons of Israel" (Acts 9:15; cf. Rom 11:13-14). the saints: I.e., those who are baptized and set apart to serve God (1 Cor 6:11). The majority of surviving manuscripts include the words "in Ephesus" in this verse, but they are lacking in some of the most ancient copies of the letter we possess (see textual note a). For the implications of this, see introduction: Destination. Back to text.

1:2 Grace . . . and peace: A customary greeting in Paul's letters (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; Gal 1:3). Back to text.

1:2 Father: The preeminent title for God in Ephesians (1:3, 17; 2:18; 3:14; 4:6; 5:20; 6:23). Back to text.

1:3-14 A panoramic view of salvation that stretches from the past (election, 1:4) to the present (adoption, 1:5) to the future (recapitulation, 1:10). Like an orchestral overture, it introduces many themes to be developed in subsequent chapters. Structurally, Paul has organized this benediction around the work of the Trinity (CCC 257-58). The Father chooses us (Eph 1:4), the Son redeems us (1:7), and the Holy Spirit seals us (1:13). Notice, too, that Paul celebrates blessings traditionally linked with Baptism, such as sonship (1:5), grace (1:6), forgiveness (1:7), and sealing (1:13). These 12 verses comprise only one sentence in the original Greek. • Paul's benediction follows the format of a Hebrew berakah, i.e., a prayer of blessing and praise to God in elevated language (1 Chron 29:1013; Tob 13:1-18; Dan 3:3-68) (CCC 1078, 2627). Back to text.

1:3 in Christ: A description of our union with Jesus through grace. Similar expressions of incorporation punctuate the letter and culminate in Paul's vision of Christ as the "head" of his mystical "body", the Church (1:22-23; 2:16; 5:23). the heavenly places: I.e., the spiritual realm where believers sit enthroned with Christ (1:20; 2:6) and where angels and demons move about unseen (3:10; 6:12). See note on Eph 2:6Back to text.

1:4 holy and blameless: The standard of spiritual perfection that God desires for his children (5:27; Col 1:22). • Paul employs cultic terminology from the OT, where holy means "set apart" for the Lord and blameless means "unblemished" or "fit for sacrifice". This recalls how animals were set apart for priestly inspection, and only those free of physical defects could be sacrificed to Yahweh (Lev 1:3, 10). These offerings were mere shadows of the Christian vocation to offer ourselves as holy and living sacrifices to the Father (Rom 12:1) (CCC 1426, 2807). See note on Eph 5:2Back to text.

1:5 He destined us: The Father predestined believers for divine adoption (1:4). This eternal decree springs from his love and unfolds in history as the elect are saved by grace (Gal 4:5) and eventually brought to glory (Rom 8:23). Because the doctrine of predestination holds together two mysteries, one of divine sovereignty and one of human freedom, it should be an incentive for Christians to confirm their election through works of righteousness (2 Pet 1:10), rather than an excuse for spiritual indifference or moral laxity. We cannot gain access to God's hidden plan, but we do know the precepts he has revealed for our salvation (Deut 29:29). As with the election of Israel, God took no consideration of our merits or worthiness when he predetermined our adoption in Christ (Deut 7:7; Rom 9:10-11) (CCC 381, 600). See note on Rom 8:29. • Predestination can have no other cause than the will of God alone. And the sole motive for God's predestinating will is to communicate his divine goodness to others (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Ephesians 1, 1). Back to text.

1:7 redemption: Freedom purchased for a slave or prisoner by a ransom price. Christ redeemed us from sin and for divine sonship (Gal 4:5) at the expense of his own blood (Rev 5:9; CCC 517). • Divine redemption is first displayed in the Bible in the Exodus (Ex 15:13; Deut 7:8). We participate in a new and spiritual Exodus when Christ rescues us from the bondage of guilt and the tyranny of the devil (Rom 6:15-18). Back to text.

1:9 the mystery: A central theme in Ephesians, introduced here and developed more fully in 3:1-19. See word study: Mystery at Eph 3:3. Back to text.

1:12-13 Here and elsewhere Paul alternates between we and you. Among the options, (1) "we" could refer to Jewish Christians (us, 2:14), and "you" to Gentile Christians (2:11); or (2) "we" might refer to Christians known by Paul, and "you" to those unacquainted with Paul personally (1:15; 3:2); or (3)"we" might refer to believers long since converted (1:12), and "you" to more recent converts. None of these possibilities is mutually exclusive of another, so it is quite possible the groups in question fall into more than one category. Back to text.

1:13 sealed: In the ancient world, seals were marks of ownership and protection (4:30; Ezek 9:4-6; Rev 7:4). Believers are divinely sealed by the Spirit. The Church Fathers employed this language to describe the indelible mark impressed upon the soul in Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders (CCC 698, 1272-74, 1296). See note on 2 Cor 1:22. •In Pauline theology, Baptism does to the soul what circumcision did to body: it marks it with the sign and seal of the covenant (Rom 4:11). See note on Col 2:11Back to text.

Word Study

Unite (Eph 1:10)

Anakephalaioō (Gk.): "recapitulate" or "sum up under one head". The verb is rarely used in antiquity and appears only twice in the NT. It can refer to the placement of a numeric sum over a list of figures that have been added or, more generally, to a gathering together of scattered elements. In Rom 13:9, Paul uses this Greek word to explain how the moral commandments of the Law all add up to one: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." In Eph 1:10, he asserts that God's supreme plan for the universe is to put Jesus Christ at the summit of all things seen and unseen. Present in the background is Adam, whose headship over the human family left the world in a state of chaos and sin. Christ comes as the new Adam to be established as the new "head" over all things (Eph 1:22; see also 5:23). He reverses the damage done by Adam's rebellion by piecing creation back together again and by summoning a family reunion of all God's children: Israel, the Gentiles, and even the angels. This grand work of reunification is already under way and will continue until Christ subdues his enemies (1 Cor 15:2428) and the grace of redemption permeates the entire universe (Rom 8:19-23) (CCC 518, 1042-43).

1:14 guarantee: An expression derived from a Hebrew term meaning "pledge" or "down payment" (Gen 38:17-18). The Spirit received in Baptism (Acts 2:38) is thus a first installment of the fullness of God's life and blessing we hope to possess in heaven (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; CCC 1107). Back to text.

1:15 I have heard: The comment here and at 4:21 suggests that Paul has never met his intended readers in person. Back to text.

1:18 your hearts: In biblical thinking, the heart is the center of the person, where thinking, willing, and feeling originate. See word study: Heart at Deut 30:6. enlightened: By the grace of faith in Christ (5:14). Early theologians described Baptism as the sacrament of "enlightenment" (CCC 1216). Back to text.

1:20 sit at his right hand: A position of royal honor and sovereignty. • Paul alludes to Ps 110:1, which describes the coronation and enthronement of the Messiah in heaven. Now reigning beside the Father, Christ wields authority to govern the cosmos (Mk 16:19; CCC 668). Psalm 110 is the most frequently cited passage of the OT in the NT (Mt 22:44; Acts 2:34-35; 1 Cor 15:25; Heb 1:13). Back to text.

1:21 rule and authority and power: Names given in Jewish and Christian tradition to different choirs or orders of angels. They can refer to blessed angels or to demons who fell from their ranks (Eph 3:10; 6:12; Col 2:15; 1 Pet 3:22). Paul's point is that God has elevated Christ far above all creation, including things visible and material as well as things invisible and spiritual (Col 1:16; CCC 331-36, 395). • Catholic theologians have traditionally recognized nine choirs of angels arranged in three levels or hierarchies. The first consists of the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones; the second of the Dominions, Authorities, and Powers; and the third of the Rulers, Archangels, and common Angels. Theologians classify these angelic orders according to their divinely given tasks. this age: Jewish tradition distinguished between the present evil age and the coming messianic age. Just as Christ's coming marked the transition from Old Covenant era to the New, so he will come again in glory to close the present age of history and open the future age of eternity (Mk 10:30; Lk 20:34-36). Back to text.

1:22 under his feet: A position of subjection and defeat. • Paul alludes to Ps 8:6, where David marvels that God crowned Adam and his descendants as rulers of his creation (Gen 1:26). Although this government was frustrated because of sin, Jesus reclaims Adam's dominion over the visible world and extends it over the angelic realms as well (Heb 2:5-9). All will acknowledge Christ's kingship when he subdues his last remaining enemies—the devil, the demons, and death. See note on 1 Cor 15:25-27. • It is an awesome fact that the whole power of creation will bow before a man, in whom is the divine Word (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians 3, 1). the head: Christ reigns supreme over the cosmos and the universal Church, which is his "body" (1:23). See word study: Head at Eph 5:23. • God has set over all creation one and the same head, the incarnate Christ. That is, he has given to angels and men one and the same government (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians 1, 1). Back to text.

2:1-22 A tragic picture of man without God. The chapter falls into two halves: the first explains how Christ reconciles men with God (2:1-10), and the second how Christ reconciles men and nations with one another (2:11-22). Notice that Paul stresses the radical difference between living "by grace" (2:5) and living "by nature" (2:3). Back to text.

2:1 you were dead: Spiritual death is the consequence of sin (Rom 5:12), and those who are dead in sin cannot recover the life and grace of God for themselves any more than a corpse can revive itself to live again. Believers are brought from spiritual death to spiritual life through Baptism (Eph 2:5; Jn 5:24; Rom 6:4, 23). Back to text.

2:2 power of the air: Paul assumes the ancient belief that demonic spirits crowd the atmosphere, posing an ominous and ongoing threat to our spiritual lives. The prince among them is Satan, the archenemy of God, who is veiled from our sight but is not thereby any less real or dangerous (4:27; 6:11; Jn 8:44). Man is powerless to resist the domination of the devil without the assistance of grace (Eph 6:11-17). See note on Eph 6:10-17. sons of disobedience: A Hebraism meaning "rebels" or "sinners" (5:6). Back to text.

2:3 children of wrath: I.e., enemies of God liable to judgment. This results (1) from the dismal inheritance of Original Sin, which spreads to every living person by natural generation (by nature, 2:3), and (2) from the actual sins and ongoing rebellion of the human family against God (trespasses and sins, 2:1) (CCC 402-5). See note on Rom 5:12. • Through the sin of the first man, which came from his free will, our nature became corrupted and ruined; and nothing but the grace of God alone restores it (St. Augustine, On the Grace of Christ 55). Back to text.

2:5-6 By grace we share in the exaltation of Christ: his rising from the dead, his ascent into heaven, and his enthronement at the Father's right hand. Paul articulates this theology of participation by using the preposition with three times in these verses (in Greek, the verbal prefix syn-). Back to text.

2:6 sit with him: I.e., we are made to share in the heavenly reign of Christ (CCC 1003). Back to text.

2:8 grace: The biblical term for (1) God's favor and (2) God's supernatural life. The former designates the conditions of its bestowal (a free and undeserved gift, Rom 6:23), and the latter designates the content of the gift we receive (a share in the divine nature, 2 Pet 1:4) (CCC 1996-2003). have been saved: Salvation is here described as a present state resulting from a past action. The preceding context indicates that deliverance from sin and spiritual death is in view (2:1-3). That salvation is not thereby assured but is also a future hope; see note on Rom 5:10. through faith: Faith is instrumental in saving us and uniting us with Christ. In the context of conversion, salvation is conferred through the instrument of Baptism (1 Pet 3:21), and salvation is received through the instrument of faith (Rom 3:2425). For Paul, belief in Jesus Christ is a divine gift (Phil 1:29) that we exercise when we adhere to God with trust (personal aspect) and assent to the truth he has revealed in the gospel (propositional aspect) (CCC 177). Back to text.

2:9 lest any . . . boast: Because salvation is neither a payment for services rendered nor a personal achievement, there is no room for pride or boasting on our part (1 Cor 4:7). Back to text.

2:10 good works: Works of righteousness that pertain to salvation (Rom 2:6-7). These are made possible by the grace of God empowering us from within (Phil 2:12-13; Heb 13:20-21). • The Second Council of Orange decreed in A.D. 529 that man, weakened by the Fall of Adam, is incapable of performing works worthy of eternal life by his own natural strength. Only by the supernatural help of the Spirit can we be humble, obedient, and loving in a way that truly pleases the Lord (Canons 1-25) (CCC 2008-11). Back to text.

2:11 the uncircumcision: A Jewish epithet for Gentiles, who were excluded from the covenant and blessings God gave to Israel in ages past (2:12; Rom 9:4-5). in the flesh: Circumcision of the foreskin was a procedure done by human hands as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 17:9-14). This is in contrast to the circumcision of the heart, which Christ performs without human hands in the waters of Baptism (Rom 2:28-29; Col 2:11-12). Back to text.

2:14 he is our peace: The peace of Christ is not worldly tranquillity but a spiritual peace rooted in our reconciliation with the Father (Jn 14:27; Rom 5:1; CCC 2305). See word study: Peace at Col 3:15. dividing wall: Paul alludes to a wall in the Jerusalem Temple that separated the outer court of the Gentiles from the inner courts, where Israel alone could pray and sacrifice. Gates leading into the inner precincts were posted with signs warning that Gentile trespassers would face the death penalty. For Paul, this wall of separation represents the OT theology of separation that required Israel to insulate itself from the idolatry and immorality of the nations (Lev 20:26). Christ dismantled this barricade when, having fulfilled the Law to perfection, he abolished the legal precepts (2:15) that set Israel apart from the Gentiles (e.g., circumcision, animal sacrifice, dietary laws, festival days). As a result, the age when Jew and Gentile were divided has given way to the messianic age, when all nations are united in Christ (Rom 15:7-12; Gal 3:28). Back to text.

2:17 far off . . . near: Signifies spiritual distance from God. •Paul is paraphrasing Is 57:19, where peace is proclaimed both to Israel, the people nearest the Lord, and to the Gentiles, the people of distant lands who once lived far from God. Back to text.

2:18 access: The way to the Father passes through Christ (3:11-12). Perhaps Paul is contrasting Jesus with the veil of the Temple, which, in the old economy, greatly restricted access to the Lord. The interpretation is not certain, but Temple imagery fills the surrounding context, and elsewhere links are forged between Christ and the sanctuary veil (Mk 15:37-38; Heb 10:19-20). Back to text.

Word Study

Mystery (Eph 3:3)

Mystērion (Gk.): "mystery" or "secret". The term is used six times in Ephesians and 22 times in the rest of the NT. Like Jesus, who revealed the mysteries of his kingdom through parables (Mt 13:11; Mk 4:11), Paul often teaches his readers about the hidden plan of God now manifest in the reign of Christ (Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 15:51; Eph 5:32; Col 2:2; 1 Tim 3:16). The most likely background for this notion is the Book of Daniel, where "mystery" (Aramaic raz) appears eight times in a single chapter (Dan 2:18-19, 27-30, 47). Here the mystery is described in a dream to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who envisioned a huge statue of a human body that symbolized the great empires of the earth. Though the king himself was the "head" (Dan 2:38) of the statue who received his empire from the Lord (Dan 2:37), Daniel went on to describe how the statue would be destroyed and replaced by the messianic kingdom of God. This is the mystery of the kingdom revealed in Ephesians (Eph 1:9; 3:4, 9). It is the mystery of another body, the Church, with its head, Jesus Christ (CCC 772, 1066).

2:19 members: I.e., family members by virtue of divine adoption (1:5; Gal 4:5). Back to text.

2:20 apostles and prophets: The foundation stones of the universal Church, here viewed as a spiritual temple (1 Pet 2:4-8). Both fulfilled the unrepeatable mission of establishing Christ's kingdom in the world for all time. For other references to NT prophets, see Eph 4:11, Acts 13:1, and 1 Cor 12:28 (see also CCC 857). cornerstone: The first stone set in place when beginning construction on a new building, in this case a temple. It served as the square to line up the rest of the structure and was part of the foundation at the base of the edifice. The honored position of the cornerstone is a fitting description of Christ's role as the immovable foundation of the Church (1 Cor 3:11). Some prefer to visualize Christ as the keystone that holds together a Roman archway, but cornerstones are generally foundation stones in Semitic architecture (Job 38:6; Jer 51:26). • The term used here for cornerstone is found only in Is 28:16 in the Greek OT. Jewish tradition expressed in the Aramaic Targum of Isaiah viewed this stone as a symbol of the messianic "king" of Israel. Back to text.

2:21 a holy temple: The Church is a spiritual sanctuary that is living and inclusive. Its foundation is Christ, his apostles, and the early Christian prophets (2:20); its walls are believers from every nation fitted and bonded together by grace (2:22); and its holiness comes from the sanctifying presence of the Spirit who dwells within (2:22) (CCC 756, 797). Back to text.

3:1 Paul, a prisoner: Probably in Rome, possibly under house arrest (Acts 28:16, 30). Back to text.

3:2 stewardship: The administrative tasks of a servant in charge of the household and finances of his master. Paul is a steward of divine mysteries (1 Cor 4:1) chosen to manage the household affairs of the Church (1 Tim 3:15). The grace of God has come to him on its way to others—the "Gentiles" and the "sons of Israel" (Acts 9:15). Back to text.

3:3 written briefly: Points back to earlier comments about the mystery revealed in Christ (1:9-10) and the salvation of the Gentiles (2:11-22). Back to text.

3:6 Gentiles are fellow heirs: The OT revealed that the nations would be blessed, but it remained unclear how this would take place (Gen 22:16-18; Sir 44:21; Is 49:6; Zech 2:11). It was also not clear before the proclamation of the gospel whether the Gentiles would be saved on an equal footing with Israel (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). Back to text.

3:8 I am the very least: Paul is overcome by a sense of unworthiness and overawed that God could transform a sinner like himself into a servant of the gospel (1 Cor 15:9; 1 Tim 1:15). Back to text.

3:10 through the Church: Christ continues to teach, heal, and save the world through his mystical body. This mystery was once hidden from the angels (1 Pet 1:12) but is now manifest for the principalities and powers to look on and learn the plan of salvation. To the blessed angels, it is a glorious vision of an ever-expanding family; to the demons, it is a frightful spectacle of their own achievements toppling over with the triumph of the gospel. Elsewhere Paul portrays the Church as a pillar that upholds the truth for all to see (1 Tim 3:15). See note on 1:21. Back to text.

3:14 bow my knees: Kneeling is a gesture of submission and worship (Ps 95:6; Acts 20:36). It is a way of expressing through the body the inner attitude of the heart (CCC 2702-3). Back to text.

3:15 family: The term (Gk. patria) refers to a group of related individuals who trace their origin to a common father or forefather and is linguistically related to the word "Father" (Gk. pater) in the preceding verse. Because God is the supreme Father of men and angels, his life-giving Paternity is the reality of which created fatherhood and family life are only a reflection (CCC 239, 2214). Back to text.

3:18 breadth . . . length . . . height . . . depth: Many connect these dimensions with the limitless scope of Christ's love, which surpasses understanding (3:19). Others see a reference to the untraceable vastness of God and his wisdom (Job 11:7-9) or to the cubic proportions of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev 21:16). • The four dimensions are the four extensions of the Cross. By height is meant heaven, by depth the underworld, by length and breadth the cosmic order in between. In each of these realms, devotion to the Lord is rendered (St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Three Days). Back to text.

3:20 more abundantly: God can accomplish things far beyond expectation if only we pray with faith (Jas 1:6-8) and remove from our lives the hindrances of sin (Ps 66:18; 1 Pet 3:7). Back to text.

4:1-6:20 Paul completes his doctrinal exposition (chaps. 13) with moral exhortation (chaps. 4-6). The first half of the letter thus works in tandem with the second, showing how the standards of Christian belief are inseparable from the standards of Christian behavior (CCC 1971). Back to text.

4:3 unity of the Spirit: The towering theme of 4:1-16 and of the letter in general. Because believers are baptized into one body (1 Cor 12:13), their union is displayed in the oneness of their faith (creed), life (code), and sacramental worship (cult). The Church is equipped to preserve this unity through the hierarchical leadership appointed by Christ (Eph 4:11-12). Paul's vision of a unified Church mirrors that of Jesus in Jn 17:6-26 (CCC 172-73, 814). Back to text.

4:7 given to each: Every baptized believer is given spiritual gifts or charisms to be exercised for the good of the Church (1 Cor 12:4-11; 1 Pet 4:10). In this context, Paul focuses on the varied graces connected with ecclesiastical offices (Eph 4:11) (CCC 913). Back to text.

4:8 When he ascended: A reference to Ps 68:18. Although the wording of Paul's citation differs from both the Hebrew and Greek versions of this text known to us, it approximates other renditions of the psalm in Aramaic and Syriac. • Psalm 68 celebrates the triumphal procession of biblical history, when Israel, filing out of Egypt behind Yahweh, was led on its march to the summit of Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. The victories won by the Lord along the way earned him the right to distribute gifts and spoils of war to the Israelites. For Paul, the psalm points forward to the ascent of Jesus into the heavenly Jerusalem after disarming the forces of evil on the Cross (Col 2:15). The Church began to share in this victory when Christ poured out the gifts of the Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:33). Back to text.

4:9-10 A parenthetical explanation of how Jesus fulfills Ps 68. Interpretations differ over the meaning of lower parts of the earth. (1) Some view this expression as a reference to earth itself, to which Christ descended in his Incarnation (Jn 3:13). (2) Others take it to mean the underworld, to which Jesus descended on Holy Saturday before rising again on Easter Sunday. The second view is more likely correct in light of similar expressions in the Greek versions of Ps 63:9 and 139:15 that clearly refer to the underworld of the dead. In this case, Paul is stressing that Christ has charted the extremities of the cosmos, descending to its deepest depths in his Passion and rising above its highest heights at his Ascension. This is not simply a journey through space; rather, it is an expression of Christ's supreme humiliation and exaltation. • Several Church Fathers connected this verse with Christ's descent to the dead, in which he released the captive souls of the righteous and led them up to heaven (1 Pet 3:18-19; CCC 632-33). Back to text.

4:11 apostles . . .teachers: Ecclesial ministries associated with the proclamation of the Word. These positions are established to promote unity in the Church by (1) preserving doctrinal purity, (2) warding off false teaching (4:14), and (3) sanctifying people in truth (Jn 17:17-19). These spokesmen of the gospel build up the Body of Christ when they bring believers from immaturity to spiritual adulthood (Eph 4:15; CCC 1575, 2003-4). Other ministerial graces are listed in Rom 12:68 and 1 Cor 12:4-11. See note on 1 Cor 12:28Back to text.

4:15 speaking the truth: Or, "doing the truth". By bracing ourselves with the truth, we can resist the wind and waves of false teaching that unsettle the faith of immature believers. Paul is urging readers to grow in their knowledge of Christ (1:17; 4:23; Rom 12:2); otherwise their minds will remain childish, underdeveloped, and vulnerable to dangerous novelties that are contrary to the gospel (Eph 4:14). Here and elsewhere Paul insists that love is the surest means to build up the Church (4:16; 1 Cor 8:1; 13:1-13). Back to text.

4:16 joined . . . growth: The same Greek verbs, which here describe the unity and growth of a body, also appear in 2:21, where they describe the integrated construction of a temple. The double use of this language in Ephesians points to a close connection between "body" and "temple" in Pauline theology (see also 1 Cor 6:19). This connection originates with Jesus, whose human body was the temple of his divinity (Jn 2:1921). Applied to the living assembly of believers, it implies that the Church is a mystical extension of the Incarnation. Back to text.

4:17 walk as the Gentiles walk: Believers must repudiate the behavior of pagans, whose minds are blind to gospel truth and whose wills are bent on evil rather than good. The same predicament of moral and intellectual depravity is outlined in Rom 1:18-32. Back to text.

4:24 put on: Alludes to early liturgical practice in which catechumens were clothed in white robes immediately after Baptism. Metaphorically, Paul challenges us to put our baptismal commitments into practice by stripping off sinful habits (vices) and putting on the new garments of Christ (virtues) (Rom 13:14; Gal 3:27; CCC 1473). Back to text.

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