Oh, you idiots of Galatia! – Thursday, 27th Week in ordinary time – Galatians 3: 1-5
Missing the woods for the trees or catching the bull by its tail is what this passage could end up for many people as it did for those who championed the Protestant reformation. The text must be situated in its context or else it becomes a pretext to further personal agendas and ‘perverse teachings.’
At the heart of the matter is the relentless campaign of the Judaizers to convince the Gentile Christians of the need to follow the Jewish law and the traditions. Their name and shame campaign was so effective that Paul admits that even though the Judaizers were far away from their headquarters in Jerusalem they successfully managed to get Peter ‘the rock’ and Barnabas, ‘the son of encouragement’ to succumb and withdraw from eating and associating with the Gentile Christians (2:13). Paul would have none of this and Peter was at the end of Paul’s tongue lashing (2:11)
So, it all comes down to one word; justification! For Paul who was the brightest of the best in the Jerusalem school of Gamaliel, all his fidelity to the Jewish law and traditions did not save him from sin. What did win his soul was Christ hanging from a tree for our sins. So man’s right relationship with God (that is the meaning of justification) is not won by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. For Paul this truth cannot be compromised even in the slightest way. However this text must be read in its context and with the letter of St James.
For the Jews, the Gentiles were ipso facto sinners because they did not share in the Jewish national heritage of the law and the covenant. But for Paul, all men and women, Jews as well as Gentiles, slaves as well as freed men, all are sinners! All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and hence all are equally dependent on God’s grace. This grace is received not by keeping the tradition or the law(which he refers to as works of the flesh) but by faith in Jesus Christ (works of the spirit)
Fearing that the Galatians and no less Peter and his group (2:11-14) were in danger of falling away from this truth, Paul addresses them in the opening lines of today’s text with sharp words. He calls them “foolish Galatians!” “Are you out of your minds?” he seems to asks them? Had someone put some kind of spell on them? In calling the Galatians foolish, Paul did not mean they were morally or mentally deficient. He did not use the Greek word moros, instead, Paul used the ancient Greek word anoetos, which had the idea of someone who can think but fails to use their power of perception.Paul was implying that these Galatians had distracted themselves from the core issue of the Gospel and that was Jesus Christ who was crucified.
The Gentiles did not receive this faith through their act or works but simply by ‘hearing the faith.’ Yet it was worldly guarantees of salvation, a kosher table and circumcision that they found comfort in and not Christ, whose blood shed on the cross had won them salvation. As in the Letter to the Romans, Paul will emphasise here again and again that it is only the work of the Spirit within us that produces worthy actions and not the works of the flesh.
We cannot “earn” God’s love by the fulfilling of self-initiated activities, even by the observance of moral or religious laws. God is not in us because we are good; we are good to the extent that we open ourselves to let God work in and through us.