The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headlines are meant to keep my thinking realistic:
CEAUSESCU PRISON GOVERNOR BROUGHT TO JUSTICE
Galatians 4:22-5:1Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
22 It says that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and one by the free woman. 23 The one by the slave woman was born according to the limited capabilities of human beings, but the one by the free woman was born through the miracle-working power of God fulfilling his promise. 24 Now, to make an allegory on these things: the two women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai and bears children for slavery — this is Hagar. 25 Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she serves as a slave along with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother; 27 for the Bible says,
“Rejoice, you barren woman who does not bear children!
28 You, brothers, like Isaac, are children referred to in a promise of God. 29 But just as then the one born according to limited human capability persecuted the one born through the Spirit’s supernatural power, so it is now. 30 Nevertheless, what does the Bible say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for by no means will the son of the slave woman inherit along with the son of the free woman!”[b] 31 So, brothers, we are children not of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
5 What the Messiah has freed us for is freedom! Therefore, stand firm, and don’t let yourselves be tied up again to a yoke of slavery.
This is a bit obscure because of Paul’s strange use of the bible. He wants to use Abraham as a figure pointing beyond the Jewish Torah, so he uses his children, Ishmael and Isaac as symbols of the Jewish covenant and the Jesus covenant respectively. Ishmael,the child of Abraham’s slave girl Hagar stands for the Jewish covenant, for the daft reason that Mount Sinai the place of the Jewish covenant is in Arabia the land of Ishmael; whereas Isaac the child of Sarah stands for the Jesus-covenant because he was born as the result of God’s promise. This is all slightly bewildering, perhaps even for the average Galatian, as of course it involves a startling insult to the Jewish faith by identifying it with Ishmael, the rejected child of Abraham, and claiming Isaac, the child with whom the Jewsih faith identified, for the Jesus people!
Not content with those insults Paul adds that he sees Hagar the slave girl as the symbol of the earthly city of Jersualem which is enslaved by Rome, whereas Sarah is the symbol of the city of God, which is the mother of the Jesus people.
One can only stand back in amazement. If the Bible can mean this, it can mean anything! Perhaps it would be good, however for scriptural fundamentalists to take a look at Paul’s use of scripture before they insist on a literal interpretation of everything in the Bible.
In effect, by these stange means, Paul says that faith in Jesus Messiah is the true fulfilment of the ancient promise to Abraham, while Torah obedience is a form of spiritual slavery.
Paul’s vehemence here is not towards the Jewish faith as such, but towards Jewish Christians who want to make their new faith into a sect of the old. He is insisting that Jesus-faith is the God-given fulfilment of Jewish faith, leaving the Torah behind. He struggled to interpret the meaning of Jewish rejection of Jesus Messiah but did not think that God had rejected the Jews. But he wanted to clear his feet of the theological racism that saw one people rather than all people as chosen by God through his Messiah.
The crowds got even bigger and Jesus addressed them, ‘This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here. On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here.’
Jesus was talking about the kingdom of God, that is, God’s goodness breaking into the world in his ministry. Jesus saw that goodness in two ways: as a call to “turn from evil”; and as the offer of life-giving wisdom. But because his compassion for people led to acts of healing, he was besieged by superstitious demands for miracles as proof of his mission. Jesus utterly rejeced the demand, citing the people of Niniveh who repented when Jonah preached , and the Queen of Sheba who came from afar to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, as witnesses against his own people. He insisted, “Something greater….. is here.” Jesus was not promoting himself but God’s goodness poured out in his ministry.
This is in line with Paul’s insaistence that the life and death of Jesus Messiah bursts through its origins in Judaism to offer God’s goodness to all people. Christianity does not simply announce the available goodness of God as a general principle. It does say that this inclusive goodness flows from the unique event of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The shape of divine love for all people and all time is made visible in him.