Lectionary Reflection—19 June 2016
Before faith came, we were guarded under the Law, locked up until faith that was coming would be revealed, so that the Law became our custodian until Christ so that we might be made righteous by faith.
But now that faith has come, we’re no longer under a custodian.
You’re all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There’s neither Jew nor Greek; there’s neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you’re all one in Christ Jesus. Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you’re Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.
There are two things I want to touch upon here: the Law and Christ.
From time to time, I hear people state that followers of Jesus should be following the Jewish (or Mosaic) Law. It seems to me that St. Paul refuted that in the passage above. He stated that “the Law” (i.e., the Mosaic Law), was only a temporary thing. He wrote that “the Law” was a “custodian until Christ. But now...we’re no longer under” the Law.
But let’s back up a little bit.
By his own admission Saint Paul was an apostle to the “Gentiles” or non-Jews of his day (2.2, 9, Acts 15.12). And these Celts in Galatia (oh! You didn’t know they were Celts? Yep!) had been duped into thinking that to be real Christians, they must follow the Law of Moses (that’s pretty much the first three chapters of this letter).
Paul doesn’t just make a blanket statement about not following the Law, he explains why—the coming of Christ. In another of his letters, considered his magnum opus by some, Paul wrote that Christ was the “end” or “goal” (τέλος (telos) in Greek meaning “end, finish, consummation”) to which the Law pointed (Romans 10.4). So there’s no reason why people, especially those who follow Jesus, should be trying to follow the Law. It ended at the coming of Christ.
But why is that? Well, that’s the next point.
When Christ came (or if you prefer—when God became incarnate through the person of Jesus) he proclaimed the coming of God’s promised Realm (Mark 1.15). This coming Realm (also known as New Creation, New Covenant, or the New Heaven and Earth) was inaugurated when Jesus was resurrected marking the “first day” of the New Creation (John 20). However, the New Creation wasn’t fully established until the Old Creation—the city of Jerusalem and her Temple—was removed in 70 CE (Revelation 21). During that transitional period (roughly forty years from the resurrection of Jesus to the fall of Jerusalem) the Old Creation was decaying (Hebrews 8; cf. Hebrews 3), while the New Creation was slowing growing and becoming established (Luke 13.18-21).* With the establishment of a New Covenant comes a new Law—the Law of Love (Mark 12.28-31; John 13.34-35; Romans 13.8; Galatians 5.14; 1 John 4.21). So, the reason that the Law of Moses is no longer binding is because it was the law of the Old Creation. Since the Old Creation was replaced by the New Creation, the Old Law was replaced by the New Law, the Law of Love.
Now back to Galatians.
A lot of people interpret Galatians 3.26 in this way: if people believe in Jesus—that is, if they’ve “confessed with the mouth and believed in the heart that God raised him from the dead” (Romans 10.9-10) then they’re “saved” (and by that they mean that they become Christians)—then they’re all “God’s children.” It doesn’t matter if they’re Jews or non-Jews, male or female, etc.; it’s their faith in Jesus which makes them brothers and sisters in God’s family.
And that’s fine as far as it goes.
But that’s a little too individualistic for me. I hate to break it to my American readers but the Bible isn’t really too keen on individualism, not the way America sees it anyway (which, to be honest, borderlines on idolatry in some circles). The God of the Bible is covenantal—it’s about community. Generally speaking, what God does, God does for the whole, not the part. And, when God does do something for the individual, it’s ultimately for the whole community.
Take the issue of sin in Romans 5, for example. Saint Paul is clear when he states that sin entered the world through Adam, and because of that, all of humanity was sinful. “Death,” Paul wrote, “ruled (all creation) because of one person’s failure” and “judgment fell on everyone through the failure of one person” (Romans 5.17-18). Why? Because Adam represented all humanity (Romans 5.14; cf. 1 Corinthians 15.22, 45); he was the covenant leader, if you will. No one had to “believe in the heart and confess with the mouth” for this to be true. That’s not the way it works. Again, covenants are with the entire community, not just the individual. Blessings and curses come upon everyone in the community not just the individuals who keep or break the covenant rules. We in America (and the rest of the civilized world) may not like this, but that’s the way things are in the Bible.
Of course, this has it’s benefits, too. This idea of covenantal representation is why the New Testament writers are emphatic that God will resurrect people because God resurrected Jesus (1 Corinthians 15).
It’s because of this understanding of covenantal representation that I see verse 26 differently. I don’t think St. Paul is talking about an individual’s belief. I think he’s talking about the covenantal change from being under the Law to being under Christ. This change of worldview only happens “through faith.” That is, Paul is looking at the world through faith in what God accomplished through Christ on a cosmic scale. Just as the Law affected all Hebrews (whether they believed in it or not), the coming of Christ and his life and work (the “grim business” as a dear friend put it), affected all of humanity. Or, as Paul put it in Romans 5, “Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone” (5.18; NLT).
Therefore, it takes faith to see all humanity as “God’s children”. It takes faith in the work of God through Christ to recognize that our neighbors are our siblings. It takes faith that the cosmos is a different place because of Christ. It takes faith to see things this way. It takes faith to change one’s worldview. It takes faith to move from an individualistic way of seeing the “grim business” of Christ to seeing it as the rescue of all things—to see it not as “saving me” but “saving everything”.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
* For a detailed study of this, see my series on New Testament Eschatology.