bible blog 1444

The readings are from te Catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headlines are chosen to keep my thjinking realistic.


First reading
Galatians 5:1-6

When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. It is I, Paul, who tell you this: if you allow yourselves to be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all. With all solemnity I repeat my warning: Everyone who accepts circumcision is obliged to keep the whole Law. But if you do look to the Law to make you justified, then you have separated yourselves from Christ, and have fallen from grace. Christians are told by the Spirit to look to faith for those rewards that righteousness hopes for, since in Christ Jesus whether you are circumcised or not makes no difference – what matters is faith that makes its power felt through love.

circPaul makes his appeal more emphatic by making it personal: a circumcised man tells the Galatian men that circumcision means a commitment to keeping the whole Torah as the way to put their lives right (justified). He tells them that will separate them from the “kindness” (grace) of God in which they’d originally put their trust.

If we examine Paul’s argument we find some problems:

1. Only men can be circumcised in Jewish practice, so why is Paul talking as if this is a problem for the whole church?

2. If being circumcised makes no difference to Paul, why will it have such a devastating effect on Galatians?

3. Why will God turn off his kindness (grace) if people try to follow Torah? Does God’s attitude depend on human attitudes?

The answers are:

1. In Torah, race and gender are crucial differences but in Messiah Jesus, all are one.

2. Paul’s faith in Messiah Jesus means that he regards his Torah righteousness as rubbish. He wants Galatians to regard Torah requirements in the same way.

3. God’s kindness is always offered to all but if people insist that it is only offered to accredited Jews they will be unable to receive it.

The depth and subtlety of Paul’s faith is evident here, as it applies not only to Torah, but to any “religious requirement” that separates righteous from unrighteous. For example, the requirement of some churches that members must believe the bible to be the inerrant word of God is a new sort of Torah. The requirement that members should accept the authority of the Bishop of Rome is another. The requirement of some church members that their church building must always be held sacred and used for weekly worship, is yet another. Paul could see that if believers allowed even apparently harmless religious habits to hold sway in the faith community, they could destroy genuine faith.

Luke 11:37-41

Jesus had just finished speaking when a Pharisee invited him to dine at his house. He went in and sat down at the table. The Pharisee saw this and was surprised that he had not first washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, ‘Oh, you Pharisees! You clean the outside of cup and plate, while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness. Fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside too? Instead, give alms from what you have and then indeed everything will be clean for you.’modern

This is a tricky passage. Jesus is criticising the Pharisees attention to “religious rquirements” such as ritual handwashing and other practices while ignoring the state of their herats and spirits. God is the maker of the body (the outside) but also of the heart and the spirit (the inside) and desires the allegiance of the whole person. This much is clear. But the final sentence may be translated as given here, or as “give alms from what is within” (meaning from the heart) which sharpens the challenge; or as “But just give alms from what you have and immediately everything is clean (you think!).” This is pefectly possible as Jesus also criticised rhe Pharisees for self-advertising charity.

In any case it’s obvious the Jesus and his great disciple Paul are at one in rejecting outwardly religious behaviour as an indicator of a person’s standing with God.

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