Today’s reading is from the Jerusalem Bible version of the Epistle to the Galatians, Chapter 3, verses 26 to 29:
“You are, all of you, sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptised in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Merely by belonging to Christ you are the posterity of Abraham, the heirs he was promised.” This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
We can discern from today’s passage that St. Paul did not have some grand plan for social justice. He was not trying to change Roman laws, reform Roman institutions, or adapt Roman culture. Instead, St. Paul was more interested in creating communities in Christ. These were to be assemblies of people, who related to one another as though they were in the very presence of God. Indeed, when they gathered in Christ’s name, St. Paul believed that God was present among them.
The reconciliation afforded by the cross struck through cultural differences and conventional social distinctions. God does not see the world as we see it. God saw Jews and Greeks on equal footing before the cross. God’s covenant with the people of Israel led to the law and the prophets. The law of Christ focused the internal quality and direction of action within human disposition to move towards the grace and mercy of God. Through Christ, both Jew and Greek could reconcile their separate traditions and live together beyond a mere formalistic adherence to unchanging concepts.
Even though we must acknowledge that St. Paul did not criticize the institution of slavery itself, today’s passage does show us that God holds no such distinction between the enslaved and the free. All are God’s children. All deserve basic human dignity and respect. Yet, these sentiments must be more than words, reflecting within our Christian communities no distinctions between people when endowed with the Holy Spirit to lead. Indeed, it is through the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we are able to discern a world where all serve one another as the adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. It is only in such a world that fear of loss or scarcity can recede. It is only in such a world that we can give and not threaten or take.
Even though women often appear to disappear in St. Paul’s epistles, being addressed consistently among the “brothers,” we should notice that St. Paul does acknowledge women’s role as house church leaders, as bearers and interpreters of letters, and as prophets and leaders of prayer. Here, again, in this passage, St. Paul directly questions the binary nature of human social constructs that is based upon gender alone.
To our modern day sensibilities, none of what St. Paul has written seems to be especially notable. However, to apprehend how radical St. Paul’s writings were, we need to consider what he meant by the words: “clothed ourselves in Christ.” At a time when Christians were persecuted for simply being Christian, it was no small thing to live out ones faith openly and honestly. It was risky, and required steadfastness and courage. It also required a deepening sense of personal maturity, accepting the likelihood of social rejection or even personal danger while seeking to prepare the world for the full measure of God’s presence.
St. Paul invites us to look at being Christian in another way. We are not people of habit, who sleepwalk into worship each Sunday. Rather, we live out our faith each day in what might seem to be an unforgiving and unfair world. In truth, we have no choice: following our glorious Triune God calls us all into a personal, dynamic, and deeply participatory relationship. This call extends us into the creation of communities of good will and good cheer, which have moved beyond the bounds of human social norms and restrictions, and which seek to effect freedom, agency, and respect for all. Amen and Amen.