Monday, October 13, 2014

With or without law

Today we reach the end of chapter 4 of Paul's letter to the Galatians and we reach one of the most discussed and debated passages in all of St. Paul. His use of and interpretation of the story of Hagar and Sarah has baffled theologians and scholars from every corner of Christianity.

What is clear is that Paul is setting before people two choices: the "jewish Christianity" that depends on the following of the 613 commandments of the Torah or the Christianity which he preaches which grounds itself in a promise. If we phrase it that way you can immediately see the attractiveness of the first. It's clear and in my control. If I do the these things, then I get this.

The real gospel is much less clear. Like the birth of Isaac, it is God's work not a human accomplishment. It requires both trust and patience. It requires the willingness to believe in a promise, even when it seems to be very, very delayed.

So what do we get for all our trust and patience that the Law cannot give? Freedom. And I don't mean the childish freedom we often want, the ability to do what I want when I want. The freedom of the gospel is the real freedom, the freedom that enables us to have the peace and contentment that Paul wrote about in his letter to the Philippians.

Is the Christian life free of law? Of course not. The New Testatment is filled with commandments. From the two basics (love of God and love of neighbor) to the others commands like "Do not be afraid"(Lk 12:32, Mt 10:31),"Do this in memory of me"(1 Cor. 11:24), and "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations"(Mt. 28:19). We keep these commandments not because we think by doing so we will save ourselves, but because we want to please the one we love, who loved us first.