Tuesday of Week 27 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Galatians 1:13-24

Paul takes up where he left off yesterday. He continues to answer the charge that, by waiving the need for Gentiles to be circumcised after their conversion, he was being “soft” on them.

On the contrary, Paul reminds the Galatians, before his own conversion, he had been absolutely totally committed to Judaism. By this he meant the Jewish faith and way of life that had developed during the late period between the Old and New Testament times. The term is derived from Judah, the southern kingdom that came to an end in the sixth century BC with the exile into Babylonia. As a devout Jew and a Pharisee, Paul had been ruthless in trying to wipe out the “church of God”, the assembly (ecclesia) of God’s people which he now identifies with the Christian community, the New Testament counterpart of the Old Testament assembly.

In fact, so loyal was he to his Jewish traditions, that Paul stood out among his fellow Jews for the zeal with which he attacked the followers of Jesus. These traditions, also called in the Gospel the “tradition of the elders” refer to traditions orally transmitted from generation to generation and are to be distinguished from the written law that came through Moses.

“After the Babylonian captivity, the Jewish rabbis began to make meticulous rules and regulations governing the daily life of the people. These were interpretations and applications of the law of Moses, handed down from generation to generation. In Jesus’ day this ‘tradition of the elders’ was in oral form. It was not until about AD 200 that it was put into writing in the Mishnah.” (NIV Bible)

Paul, before his conversion, saw the ‘Christians’ (who were, of course, Jewish) as a dangerous deviation from the Jewish traditions and had to be stopped at all costs.

But then a great change came over Paul. Like some of the earlier prophets (Isaiah and Jeremiah), Paul had been chosen by God long before his birth for a very special mission. He was given the special grace and blessing of first having Jesus the Son revealed to him so that then he might share with Gentiles, that is, foreigners or non-Jews, the Good News that Jesus brings.

As if to emphasise the direct nature of the revelation he received, he stresses that at this time he did not discuss his experience with anyone nor was he in contact with any of the apostles still in Jerusalem, which was both the religious centre of Judaism and the birthplace of Christianity. He wants to emphasise that his change of heart was the result of the direct influence of God and not due to persuasive arguments from human beings.

Instead Paul went off to “Arabia”. This probably indicates the desert kingdom of the Nabataean Arabs on the east side of the Jordan River which stretched from Damascus to Suez. Damascus was (and is) the capital of Syria and was, of course, also the scene of Paul’s (Saul’s) dramatic conversion.

We do not know how long Paul stayed in the desert but three years later he tells us he was in Jerusalem and stayed with Peter (Kephas in Aramaic) for about two weeks. The word Cephas (Kephas) comes from the Aramaic word for “stone” (see Matt 16:18). In the Greek, Peter is petros and “rock” is petra. The name designates a like quality in the bearer (see John 1:42). However, in the Gospels, Peter is anything but a rock but impulsive and unstable. In Acts, he is a pillar of the early church and clearly its recognised leader. Jesus named him not for what he was but for what, by God’s grace, he would become.

Except for James, who seems to have been the leading elder in the Jerusalem church at the time, Paul says he did not see anyone else. Clearly, the only effective influence on his new life at this time was Jesus himself.

After this visit, he went back to Syria and then on to Cilicia, a Roman province in southern Turkey. We know he actually went to Tarsus, the main city of Cilicia and Paul’s place of birth.

He was still relatively unknown to the Christians in the Jerusalem area, who only knew that their one-time persecutor “was now preaching the faith he had previously tried to destroy”. And they thanked God for that turn of events. But it is clear enough that Paul was not yet quite ready to become part of the Christian mission.

Let us reflect today on our calling for we, too, were chosen before our birth to be followers of Jesus. Why us and not others is a mystery we will never be able to answer.

As we go through life we may receive other callings and I could ask myself today to what kind of service is Jesus calling me at this time in my life?

Let us recall and give thanks to God also for the very many people who, directly or indirectly, have brought and continue to bring a deeper understanding of Christ into my life.

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