Saturday of week 27 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Gal 3:22-29

Paul continues to compare the ineffectiveness of observing the Law with the effectiveness of faith in Christ.

“Sin is in control everywhere.” Everyone is touched by it and the Law does not help; if anything, it makes things worse by making us more aware of our shortcomings. One “Do not” after another creates feelings of such negativity and is so depressing. Wherever one turns, one is in danger of putting a foot wrong and can hardly avoid doing so.

The only way to experience the promises made to his people by God is by faith, a total commitment, to Jesus Christ and his Gospel of truth, love and service. Only those who have such a faith can have this experience. Being made right with God is a free gift; it is not owed to us in any way and there is nothing we can do of ourselves to force God to give it to us. He is and never can be in debt to us.

Every “good” act we do is simply evidence of God himself working through us. And so we read of the prostitute woman who burst into the house of Simon the Pharisee and covered the feet of Jesus with her tears and her kisses: “Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love” (Luke 7:47). Her sins are not removed because she loves; she loves because the gift of forgiveness has been given.

(Clearly, allowances have to be made for the huge number of people who have no opportunity of hearing the Gospel proclamation. We leave that to God’s love and God’s providential care. Paul’s words, however, have a crucial relevance for us who have been given the message.)

Paul sees the Law as a temporary expedient until the message about faith in Christ was made known. Before the way of faith, we had no real freedom under the Law; we were, as it were, the Law’s prisoners. It acted as a kind of guardian or “baby-sitter” imperfectly showing us the way to God. “Don’t do that… don’t go there…” Paul uses the word paidagogus (paidagwgos, from which our word ‘pedagogue’ comes). The paidagogus was the slave who looked after and monitored the young free-born schoolboy in Greek culture. He accompanied the boy at all times and had some disciplinary authority over him.

It is not until we make the surrender of faith in Jesus as Lord before we can have full freedom. We do not need the guardianship of the Law any more because, through our faith commitment, we have become children of God, full adults and heirs in God’s family, in a way that was never possible only under the Law. We are now free. The only law we are under is the liberating law of love.

Addressing all the Galatian Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike, Paul tells them that, since they have all been baptised into Christ (the sacramental sign of their faith in him), they have “put on” Christ (symbolised by the white garment they put on after emerging from the baptismal water). Each one is now another Christ and all the previous distinctions that divided them have fallen away. Now, there is neither Jew nor Greek – no ethnic distinctions; neither slave nor free – no social distinctions; no male or female – no distinctions based on gender. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body – Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13).

This is surely one of the greatest contributions of Christianity to the world’s cultures but, alas, one that has not yet been fully realised even in many Christian communities (cf. The Secular City by Harvey Cox, who claims that it was this thinking that paved the way for our contemporary trans-national and multi-cultural societies).

“Merely by belonging to Christ,” says Paul, we become the true, spiritual descendants of Abraham, the father of all God’s people. We are among the numberless heirs, more numerous than the stars in the heavens or the sands on the seashore, that were promised to him. This happens by our saying one, unconditional ‘Yes’ to Christ and all he stands for and committing ourselves unconditionally to his vision of life.

The underlying message for the Galatians is that there is now no need of the Law and they should ignore those who are trying to tell them otherwise. Belonging to Christ in faith is all that is needed. Everything else will flow from that.

Let us then today renew our commitment of faith, our unconditional surrender to God through Jesus and his Gospel. Let our Christian life, too, be based on that faith and let us not fall back into a legalistic mentality (Is it a sin?). It is on this foundation of a total self-surrender to Christ’s Way that the Kingdom is built, that Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim and establish.

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