Sat, 27 September 2008
In Galatians 5:13, Paul begins a pivotal discourse on the life in the Spirit. He writes, "for you were called to freedom; brethren, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for flesh." His discourse aptly begins with exhortations to live in the maturity that is freedom and love; he then makes a statement that seems peculiar at first glance: "But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another" (v 14). To better understand this passage, one can recall that churches in Paul's age were frequently beset by fierce disputes between opposing ecclesial factions. As any good shepherd, he does not wish the victors to take vengeance on those who lose theological disputes. To do this, he highlights the sins of pride, "enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy," within his litany of sins of the flesh (v 20, 21). Finally, he presents the Fruits of the Spirit as the expression of a harmonious and fruitful community life and further encourages the strife-filled Galatians to "walk by the Spirit" and have "no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another" (v 25-26).
In light of the vicious disputes in Galatia, Paul begins Chapter 6 with an underlying confidence in the ability of the Church to heal and return to harmony. He begins by instructing those who consider themselves "spiritual" Christians to restore fallen brothers and sisters, and to fulfill this responsibility with a "spirit of gentleness" that is fair and never that of a pushover (v 1). He demands that a man watch out for his brothers but warns against pride: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (v 2-3). In the Galaitian Church, the burden "spiritual" Christians must bear is likely the shame and guilt they feel towards those who followed the Judaizers as well as the humility to allow them to return to the fold after reform.
The verse "Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches" speaks to the just wages due to all clerics, presupposing that they are teaching well (v 6). Given the abysmal state of our catechesis, Catholics have a long way to go to attain the standards of the Galatian church, let alone the expectations of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
Music: Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 20 September 2008
Paul knows that the free gift of Christ is a stumbling block for those who desire a religion of self-justification. He uses excruciatingly strong language against the advocates of such legalism when he says, "I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves!" (Gal 5:12b)
Paul masterfully indicts the Judaizers as law-breakers who are preoccupied with the flesh. His conception of "flesh" speaks not only to one's sensual desires, but of anything which animates one apart from Christ, anything within a man that fights against the Spirit (cf v 17). True Christian life is a fight to the death against every desire of his flesh; any provision for the flesh is a surrender to the devil and puts one's soul in grave peril. The Judaizers' fleshly focus blinds them and their disciples from the freedom of the Christian life that is being "servants of one another" through love (v 13). Citing Leviticus 19, Paul affirms "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (v 14). Moreover, he knows "if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law" (Gal 5:18).
Paul then lists 15 sins, attempting to compile a comprehensive list of the provisions of the flesh, "fornication, impurity, licentiousness [bawdiness], idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit [ecclesial factionalism], envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (v 20-21).
He contrasts these sins with those qualities which the Spirit gives to all disciples of Christ "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law" (v 23). Paul's focus on the Spirit seeks to clearly contrast it with the system of the law as an end in itself. One must not forget that the righteous man will live by faith and that God has no pleasure in him who begins in the Spirit but turns to his own resources in self-justification (cf Heb 10:37-38).
The powerful statement "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" serves as both a summary of the Christian life and a warning for Christians to ever remain in Christ (Gal 5:24). A proper focus on Christ crucified does not downplay of the Resurrection; rather, Christ crucified is the proper emblem of our discipleship.
Faith is trust in God and a response to the his grace in Spirit, and Paul asserts " If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another" (v 26-27).
In light of the promise of Christ and the understanding of the Early Church, Catholics are not bread-worshipers, but disciples of our Lord in the Eucharist. Yet, "going through the motions" of the Mass condemns one just as much as does legalism. If Christians have been made for a relationship with the living God, the Mass is the supreme moment of one's life, the summit of worship and the source of an evident love, joy and peace. Were a Christian to not express love, joy or peace, it is a sign that he never had the life of Christ or that the tares of the word have choked him. Daily prayer and recollection are necessary for all disciples. Periodically, times of deeper prayer are required, and a period of detoxification from the world and one's own thoughts is often a prerequisite for entering into true prayer.
Music: Franz Schubert's Sonata in B Flat, D. 960 performed by David H. Porter. www.musopen.com
Sat, 13 September 2008
Paul puts forth several lines of argumentation in Galatians 1-4, including:
1) The Messiah is greater than Israel and is a hope for the whole world;
2) More than a fulfillment of the law, Christ is God's perfect gift for those who, in their mortal weakness, cannot hope to fulfill all the demands of God by themselves;
3) Paul's ministry to the Galatians exhibited both bona fide miracles and the introduction of the Spirit in these Gentiles' hearts;
4) The law served Israel as a tutor who controls an unruly child, but Christians are called to be adults, not mere children; and
5) It is foolish to turn from the Spirit's promptings and rely on self-justification and slavish bondage.
In Chapter 4 he discusses the theology of the law and the promises of God. He teaches that the promise precedes the law, and further states that God intended for the law to show His people they had the disease of sin, that they might yearn for the Messiah's redemption. Using the two sons of Abraham in an allegory, Paul illustrates how the son of a slave, conceived through man's fleshly design, stands in contrast to the son of a free woman, born through supernatural grace (cf. v 21-31). His gospel offers freedom in Christ; this freedom is born of maturity and establishes a right relationship with God. If Christ has set us free from the shackles of self-justification under the law, Christians must "stand fast, therefore, and ... not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (5:1).
Paul then makes a strong and concise rabbinical argument: "If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace" (v 2-3). In this attempt to convict the Galatians, Paul explains that Christians are called to a life of faith and love in the Spirit that comes from God, hoping "through the Spirit, by faith," for the righteousness that will be revealed at Chrit's second coming (cf. v 4). He further states, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love" (v 6).
By asking "who hindered you from obeying the truth?" Paul contrasts obedience to God with an obedience merely to the law (v 7). Notably, the Greek word for disobedience is the same word for disbelief. A Christian notion of obedience would be to respond to God with trust and belief, relating to Him as He is. One expresses his obedience by reciting the Creed at Mass, which begins in the Latin with the word credo: I believe. This deeply personal statement is akin to a marriage vow. Like the Shema Israel, however, our life in God is both deeply personal and deeply communal, demanding a loving response: "Hear O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." (Deut 6:4-5).
Music: Beethoven's Sonata No. 8 in C Minor "Pathetique", Op. 13 performed by Daniel Veesey. www.musopen.com
Sat, 6 September 2008
Paul expounds on the adoption of Christians as God's sons in the beginning of the fourth chapter of Galatians. He focuses on the unique role of the Spirit in this adoption: it is through the Spirit that the Father knows his sons; through the same Spirit, God's sons come to know the Eternal Son and can enter into the divine life of the Holy Trinity. In his other epistles, Paul shows how the presence of the Spirit in one's heart is both an assurance and an affirmation of one's sonship (cf Rom 8:16).
In verse 8, Paul digresses from his theological discourse, recounting the bond he had with the Galatian church by stating "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe [Jewish] days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid I have [strenuously] labored over you in vain" (v 8-9). One can see how the influence of the Judaizers has led the Galatian Christians to block out God with their array of compulsive routines and superstitious rituals.
Paul then reminds the Galatians how he poured himself out for them, challenging them to be as mature in Christ as he is (v 12). Although exegetes are uncertain of what is was that lead him to say, "you know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first," it is clear that the Galatians cared for him while he taught as one in the person of Christ (v 13-14). He confronts the church by asking, "what has become of the satisfaction you felt? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me," and hints at the probable ocular nature of his ailment (v 15-16). He rebukes the Judaizers for making a fuss over the Galatians with neither good reason nor noble intent (v 18). Paul also shows the outstanding pastoral care he has for his "little [Galatian] children," those for whom he toiled in constant prayer.
Paul closes the fourth chapter with an extended metaphor. He establishes his allegory by stating "Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise" (v 22). He then juxtaposes the slave-mother Hagar, the law of Mount Sinai and the present Jerusalem with the free Jerusalem who is the Christian's true mother. The Galatians are called to be "children of the promise" like Isaac, but foolishly allow the Judaizers, who live according to the flesh, to persecute their life with the Spirit (cf v 28-29). Paul ends by citing Genesis, instructing them to cast off the shackles of the Judaizers and return to their freedom, "Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman" (21:10-12).
Music: Beethoven's Sonata No. 9 in E Major, Op. 14 No. 1 performed by Paul Pitmam. www.musopen.com