Paul's letter to the Galatians is one of early Christianity's most important writings. Shortly after Paul evangelized Galatia, other Christians arrived in town teaching that all followers of Jesus must adhere to the 613 laws of Moses.

Accusing Paul of watering down the faith of Jesus, these ultra-conservative disciples of Jesus believed that anyone who wanted to be another Christ was obligated to imitate Jesus exactly as He lived during His earthly ministry. Since the historical Jesus was Jewish, circumcised and observed Torah, His disciples had to be Jewish, circumcised and observe Torah.

Fortunately, Paul had left Galatia before these Judiazers appeared. So he wrote a letter to those disturbed and confused by their teaching. (Had he still been in the area and confronted his adversaries face to face, we'd probably have no record of it.)

Our salvation

Throughout his brief epistle, Paul stresses both the importance of the risen Jesus and those aspects of Jesus' earthly ministry which led to His resurrection. Though the Apostle frequently expressed pride in his own Jewish faith, he clearly teaches that Jesus' Judaism didn't save us. It was His giving of Himself over to death which brought Him resurrection and us salvation.

That's why Sunday's second reading (Gal 6: 14-18) is so significant. The first five chapters of Paul's letter are simply a drum roll leading up to this profession of faith. "May I never boast of anything," he writes, "but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through it, the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. It means nothing whether one is circumcised or not. All that matters is that one is created anew."

We hear a somewhat different faith in God proclaimed in the first reading (Is 66:10-14). Jews living in Third-Isaiah's immediate post-exilic world looked to the city of Jerusalem to remind them of Yahweh's care and love. "As a mother comforts her son," Yahweh promises, "so will I comfort you in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort."

The only problem with such a faith is that concrete, geographic places like Jerusalem could, had been and would again be destroyed. That's why early Christians latched onto the person of the risen Jesus. He had conquered death and could give security to His people, but He could never be killed again.

Yet even with all their confidence in the risen Savior, Jesus' first disciples had to come to grips with a disturbing reality: Not everyone to whom they proclaimed Him accepted Him. Their experience seems to have triggered Luke's narrative of "the further seventy-two" disciples whom Jesus sends out to "pre-evangelize" the towns He's about to visit (Lk 10: 1-12, 17-20). (By the way, two chapters before this passage, Luke mentions that "as Jesus went through cities and villages proclaiming the good news...some women, who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, were with Him." So Scripture scholars presume "some women" were also among these seventy-two.)

God's reign

Jesus first commands His followers not to be obstacles to the faith they proclaim. They're to carry no walking staff or traveling bag, wear no sandals, nor let anyone or anything distract them on their way. They're not to "house-hop" when they arrive, searching for the softest bed or best meal in town. Their life-style helps proclaim their message: "The reign of God is at hand." In other words, "God is among you, working with power."

Next, Jesus tells His disciples not to pound their heads against stone walls. If anyone refuses to hear the good news, the seventy-two are to declare, "We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you." Followers of Jesus can only control how the good news is announced. They have no control over how it's received. The announcing alone gets their names "inscribed in heaven."

Both Paul and Luke presume Christians proclaim the faith more by who they are than by what they say. Remember what Francis of Assisi told his followers? "Proclaim the Gospel always. When necessary, use words."

No wonder some people prefer a faith which revolves around things instead of a person -- especially if that person is Jesus of Nazareth.

(07-02-98)