The heart of a pastor – Monday, 28th Week in ordinary time – Galatians 4:22-27,31,5:1
In chapter 4:12-20 Paul makes a passionate appeal to the Galatians. He does this not from any scriptural background or a theological standpoint but simply from his heart; he is emotional and passionate. He wants the Galatians to renounce the supposed advantages they think they get from the false teachings that focus on the necessity to follow the law and the traditions of the Jews.
Paul is truly perplexed by the behaviours of the Galatians. This was a community that gave him a warm welcome when he first came to them, this despite very trying conditions. They found his message worthy of their fullest commitment. Such was their affection for Paul that he testifies that they would have given their very eyes should he have asked. Yet all that had changed because of something he had either said or done or was accused of.
Paul is anxious and upset, worried about his congregation who have been agitated by trouble makers. He is frustrated about his inability to rectify the situation. He has used strong words several times in this letter to no avail. He wished he could make a personal visit to convince them personally but that it seems was not possible.
So far, Paul has used every sound logical reason to prevail upon the Galatians not to fall prey to the Judaizers and their perverse teachings. He gave them the analogy, that of a minor child. He explained to them that a man apart from Christ, living under the law was like a minor child for whom the inheritance is only prospective. That child is no better than ‘a slave’ for he is not free to inherit what has been promised. Paul does not mean that men without Christ are slaves to the law but rather they are slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. Remember that Paul is giving us an analogy and contrasting life in Christ ( in freedom) with life under the law (bondage).
In today’s text Paul uses another analogy or rather an allegory based on scripture. In fact he returns to the previous analogy that he made in Galatians 3:6-29 when he spoke of the story of Abraham. He wants to show us that this freedom given to us in Christ is also found in scripture. He harkens to the account of Abraham’s two wives.
The legalists who troubled the Galatians protested that they were children of Abraham, and therefore blessed. Paul will admit they are children of Abraham, but remind them that Abraham had two sons. Sarah was a free woman and her son Isaac was born through a ‘promise.’ This word promise has been used earlier in 3:8,14 and 16-18 to refer to the gospel. But Hagar was a slave and her son Ishmael was born not according to a promise but according to the flesh. Ishmael was indeed Abraham’s son, but he was the son according to the flesh and unbelief. He was a classic example of one trying to make their own way before God. To inherit the promise, it is not enough to be just a descendant of Abraham, as Ishmael was. To inherit the promise, it is necessary to be descended as the result of promise, like Isaac; it is necessary to be a spiritual descendant, not just a genealogical one.
The point Paul is making is that it is not enough to be descended from Abraham, as Ishmael and many Jews claimed. Paul tells the Galatian Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, that they are children not of the slave-girl (of the Law) but of the free-born wife (the Spirit of Jesus). There is no need for them to continue following the old ways of the Law. To do so is to renounce the freedom which came to them in Christ.
Paul extends this allegory by identifying the two women with the two covenants; the new and the old and with two Jerusalem’s, the present and the one above. One covenant is associated with Mount Sinai, the place where Moses received the Law (Exodus 19-20). This covenant gives birth to bondage. Since it is all about what we must do for God to be accepted by Him, it doesn’t set us free. This covenant corresponds to Jerusalem which now is; that is, the earthly Jerusalem which was the capital of religious Judaism. The other covenant associated with Jerusalem is Mount Zion, but not the Mount Zion of this earth. Instead, it is associated with the Jerusalem above, God’s own New Jerusalem in heaven. Paul insists that the new covenant and the new Jerusalem offer far more than the old. It offers freedom from slavery and Gospel offers far more than the law.
The meaning of the scripture is plain. To be in Christ is to be free from legalistic constraints of all kinds. Any compromise sullies the integrity of the Gospels. To compromise on even one aspect it to compromise on the whole of the Gospel which leads one to the yoke of slavery.
It is important for us Christians to be aware that following Christ and the Gospel is meant to bring real freedom into our lives. If we do not experience our being Christian as liberating then there is something lacking in our understanding of what the Gospel is about. Some see being a Christian as a matter of having to observe all kinds of restrictions which “other people” are not obliged to follow. For this reason, some remain riddled with guilt because they consistently feel they are not living up to the requirements of their “religion”. Others rid themselves of this guilt by leaving the Church altogether.