The persecutor now proclaims; Paul’s vocation story – Tuesday, 27th Week in ordinary time – Galatians 1:13-24
This pericope could be read either as a testimony or as a defense; it depends on how you read it. Read in a purely spiritual way, as just a text in the scriptures, it reads as a very moving testimony of a persecutor who now proclaims the Gospel. This text could well be a dramatic vocation call. However, read in the context of the letter to the Galatians, this text is a robust defense of Paul’s apostleship and a mandate to preach that came from Christ Jesus through a personal revelation.
Written to the Churches in Galatia, Paul’s letter cuts to the chase and gets to the point. There were these Judaizers, those who were formerly Jews and who now followed Christ, who had arrived in the Churches in Galatia with what Paul calls, a ‘perverse gospel.’ It was their stated position that in order to follow Christ, the Gentiles needed to first become Jews and practice the Jewish law; in particular circumcision. Since Paul did not fall in line with their way of thinking, they did what all opposing systems do, wage a campaign of disinformation, fear and half-truths.
If you want to wage a silent war that will not demand a drop of your blood but bleed your adversary to death, then wage a war of disinformation and fear. Political powers have perfected this art. But tragically the strategy has well been employed from time in memorial even when it comes to religion; today’s text is a case in point. Paul is faced with a deadly combination of all three; the war of disinformation, fear of what and who he is and a robust campaign of half-truths. So, mad was Paul with these Judaizers that this is the only letter he ever wrote that did not begin with a word of thanksgiving but by verse six took on the campaign of lies and falsehood leaving him declare ‘cursed,’ not once but twice, these perverters of the Gospel.
Paul has to defend himself and the Gospel he proclaims and the only way to do that is to bare his soul, not just in an emotional way, but by listing facts and laying down his credentials. Almost everyone hears the gospel from someone else. Not so for Paul! The Gospel that Paul preached was revealed directly to him by Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9) and not one that was homegrown in dubious traditions. Even when he reached Damascus, it was not as if Ananias was sent to give him a crash course in ‘Christianity’; that Paul had already received from Christ in a single line, ‘why do you persecute me.’ Paul’s message was not man’s attempt to reach up and understand God; it was God’s effort to bow down and communicate with man.