We read portions of the scriptures from our lectionary each day, but it’s good sometimes to look at an overview of a gospel, or an epistle, or an Old Testament book the readings are taken from. There’s something to be said for reading it all and reflecting on it.
Our first readings this week at Mass are from the Letter to the Galatians, who were pagans St. Paul converted probably on his second missionary journey through Asia Minor. When Paul left, some Jewish Christians arrived and were enticing the new converts to adopt Jewish practices, especially that of circumcision. They also called Paul’s authority into question, saying he wasn’t among the original witnesses to Jesus’ life and resurrection.
Paul responds in this emotional letter written in 54 or 55 AD in which he voices amazement that the Galatians are listening to the newcomers and losing sight of the faith they’ve learned. Paul begins by giving an account of his own call; he defends his authority to preach the gospel and his communion with the other apostles.
But the theme of his letter is belief in Jesus Christ, who was crucified. “Stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” ( Gal 3,1) Don’t lose sight of what’s most important, what’s central to your faith–Jesus Christ! Of course, losing sight of what’s most important isn’t only a characteristic of the Galatians; we do it too.
Some of the most beautiful expressions of Paul’s personal faith are found in this letter. He describes his own conversion as a “revelation of Jesus Christ,” a grace by which God “revealed his Son to me.” It wasn’t through a book he read or a blinding light. Jesus was revealed to him and that revelation continued. “I have been crucified with Christ,yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Gal 2,19-20)
Living in Christ means living in his Spirit, Paul continues. The Galatians are enticed by practices of the Jewish law; Paul reminds them of the law Jesus taught. “The whole law is fulfilled in one statement,’ You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal 5,14) Bearing one another’s burdens is the way you fulfill the law of Christ, by sharing good things with one another you fulfill his law. Don’t tire of doing good, keep doing it, Paul says to his children in faith. (Gal 6,2;6:9)
Paul doesn’t give the Galatians a book he wrote once about Jesus, he speaks to them from his own faith in Jesus which is living and constantly growing. He’s likely just read the verse from the Old Testament about the curse one bears who hangs on the tree. The Son of God took on that cursed condition of hanging on a tree! What greater love can there be? Paul’s thinking too of the promise Abraham embraced who lived long before the mosaic law existed. That was the promise Abraham saw in faith and that’s the revelation the gentiles see in the Crucified Christ.
The Letter to the Galatians is about essentials that have been forgotten or replaced by something else. Paul recalls the essentials. “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”