bible blog 956

This blog providesa meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news

Portuguese minister: “we will not exit from crisis if we persist in selfishness.”

Portuguese Parliament

Portuguese Parliament

Galatians 4:1-11

My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property;2but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father.3So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits* of the world.4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our* hearts, crying, ‘Abba!* Father!’7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.*

Paul Reproves the Galatians

8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods.9Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits?* How can you wed.ant to be enslaved to them again?10You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years.11I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.

Slaves of religion?

Slaves of religion?

In plain, direct language Paul sets out the nature of Christian trust in God. Human beings under God have just come to adulthood. While they were under-age they were under the control of religion, which Paul describes as one of the elemental spirits of the world, a powerful force indeed. But by sending Jesus, God has exposed the limits of religion-it was the representatives of religion who engineered Jesus’ death-demonstrating a relationship of love from-and-with God, which all people can share. As people respond to this love they share the very nature of Jesus Messiah as children of God. The spirit of Jesus which God sends is not some non-physical substance but the knowledge that people are God’s children rather than slaves. Believers can even use Jesus’ Aramaic word to God, Abba, which means “dear father.”

We need to remember that this astonishing narrative is not something Paul learned, but something he created out of his experience of Christian faith in his own life and the lives of others. This is his “gospel”, his story of Jesus, which is briefer than but just as powerful as, the stories told in the four gospels. If anything could justify Paul’s assertion that his gospel was not received from others but from God, it would be this distinctive formulation of the story of Jesus. He was writing maybe twenty years or less after the crucifixion, long before any of the four gospels and we can only wonder at his ability of communicate the meaning of Jesus to completely foreign societies like that of Galatia.

Paul’s assertion that those who trust in Jesus become children of God stands in contrast with the Galatians desire to go back to religion with its special customs and special days. The triviality of this desire angers Paul: how can they want to become children again? Yet that desire has been present throughout the history of Christianity, leading to many religious trivialities taking pride of place in the life of the churches. Clergy (and where did they come from?) often argue that people need their saints’ days, their inerrant bibles, their ceremonies, but we may suspect that this is just a way of justifying the existence of clergy. The issue is ironically explored by Dostoevsky in his famous Grand Inquisitor episode in The Brothers Karamozov. The Inquisitor argues that people prefer to be treated as children than to face being true adults in a hard world.

Christian Aid- true adults in a tough world

Christian Aid- true adults in a tough world

I am not arguing against the existence of the church. Christian trust in God involves a shared life in which that trust is fostered and embodied. Paul never removes the individual believer from the nourishing, challenging, liberating assembly which he calls “ekklesia.” But he insists that the assembly should know the difference between faith and religion, concentrating rigorously on the first and excluding the second. He does not think that as long as the gospel is preserved, it’s OK to add some harmless religious practices. These, he thinks, will result in people neglecting the bracing news that they are adult children of God in favour of being childish slaves of religion. As churches face the spiritual,intellectual and practical difficulties of life in the 21st century, Paul’s grasp of essentials may be a great help.

“In place of the clear and rigid ancient law, You [O Lord] made man decide about good and evil for himself, with no other guidance than Your example. But did it never occur to You that man would disregard Your example, even question it, as well as Your truth, when he was subjected to so fearful a burden as freedom of choice?”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Grand Inquisitor

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