This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
HAVEL WOULD SAY, DON’T JUST LOOK BACK…
3You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! 2The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? 4Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. 5Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?
6 Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, 7so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. 8And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.’ 9For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.
10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.’ 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’ 12But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, ‘Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.’ 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’— 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
- In the Torah history God’s promise to Abraham, whose virtue is trust in God, is made prior to the giving of the Law to Moses. In Paul’s view, this gives the Abraham material greater importance.
- Torah promises that those who keep the Law will become just people and receive God’s approval; those who do not obey are under a curse.(This is clearly special pleading as nobody ever keeps Torah perfectly but those biblical characters who desire to do so receive God’s favour and forgiveness.)
- The Christian gospel, like the promise to Abraham is based on trust. Those who through Jesus trust God become righteous people and enjoy God’s approval. There has been over the centuries an argument about Paul’s use of the Greek word meaning “righteousness, integrity, justice” and the related verb which can be translated “justified, made just, put right”. On the whole the Roman Catholic tradition has taken the view that our trust in God through Christ really does make us just or righteous people; whereas the classic reformed position is that trust in God allows God to treat us as if we are righteous. Neither interpretation suggests that we earn our salvation.
Paul’s thought succeeds in emphasising God’s rescue of human beings through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. It fails to do justice to the Jewish law and therefore remains incoherent on how the law of Jesus, which Paul calls the law of freedom can be fitted into the story of salvation. By giving central place to “trust in God” however, he frees the Christian gospel from “religious” accretions so that it can be truly open to people like the Galatians whose Celtic culture was very different from that of Jesus and Paul.
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ 61They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ 62Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. 64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
Luke also values trust in God as the basis of a just life. Here Zechariah confirms openly what he was told by God’s messenger: the child’s name is Johannan, meaning “The Lord is gracious” rather than Zechariah, “The Lord remembers”; known to us as the Baptist, but we should probably call him simply “the dipper”. God’s promises to two families begin their fulfilment with the birth of John. The impression which Luke creates is that Israel’s God, the one who brought the people out of Egypt with a strong hand and a mighty arm, is stirring again and will bend the course of history towards his saving justice.