Thursday of Week 27 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Galatians 3:1-5

Paul now zeroes in on the Galatians themselves for allowing themselves to be led astray by the Judaising “missionaries” who had been working among them. “Are you out of your minds?” he asks them. Has someone put some kind of spell on them? It is not that they were mentally deficient but they had failed to see the falseness of what they were being led into. Are they not aware that the foundation of all their beliefs is their having been saved by Jesus Christ who died publicly on the cross and rose again? This is not a secret but a well-known fact. There are echoes here, perhaps, of the bronze snake that Moses displayed on a pole and which saved the lives of all those who looked on it.

Was it through carrying out the external requirements of the Law (e.g. by circumcision and dietary practices) that they had received the Spirit or rather because they had committed themselves in faith and trust to the message of the Gospel which had been proclaimed to them? (Paul will mention the Spirit 16 times altogether in this letter.)

Are they silly enough to reduce their reliance on the Spirit to the mere observance of some external ritual actions? Have they exchanged the guidance of the Spirit for dependence on things of the “flesh”, mere human entitities? Trying to achieve righteousness by works, including circumcision, was a part of life in the “flesh”. What can these actions achieve by themselves? Nothing! Has all Paul’s preaching been for nothing?

Is their experience of the Spirit and the working of miracles among them because they practise the Law or because they have submitted completely in faith to the Gospel which was proclaimed to them? As in the Letter to the Romans, Paul will emphasise here again and again that it is only the work of the Spirit within us that produces worthy actions.

In the verse following our reading, Paul reminds the Galatians of Abraham who “believed in God and it was credited to his righteousness”. Abraham, against all common sense, was ready to sacrifice his only legitimate son, the only person who could carry on the family line which Yahweh had promised him. Once that trusting faith had been tested, the son was spared. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul will have much to say about Abraham as a model of trusting faith in God’s word.

We cannot “earn” God’s love by the fulfilling of self-initiated activities, even by the observance of moral or religious laws. That was the mistake of the Pharisee Jesus describes “praying” in the Temple. “See how good I am Lord; I deserve everything you can give me in return.”

God is not in us because we are good; we are good to the extent that we open ourselves to let God work in and through us.

As the fourth Weekday Preface says so beautifully:

You have no need of our praise,
yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift.
Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness,
but makes us grow in your grace
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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