Someone recently asked a question online: How would you define faith in three words? As you might guess the answers varied and there were many good ones. Here’s mine: “Loyalty to God.” That’s an answer to a key question about which St. Paul is writing to the church in Galatia: What is the basis by which we find favor with God?
In Galatia, the Gentile members of Jewish-minority communities seem to have fallen into two principle temptations, to which we often fall prey in more general ways: (1) the temptation to become Jewish proselytes and (2) the temptation to fall back on dependence upon old pagan loyalties. Instead, Paul calls them to “the faith of Jesus Christ,” or to put in another way, loyalty to God in Christ. (Remember, as Gentiles, they were neither bound to Jewish Law observance in the same way, nor bound to pagan practices like giving the pinch of incense in the imperial cult.)
What then instead? New creation!
How, you might ask, are these temptations for us? Well, most of us who are Gentile believers of the God of Israel probably no longer feel a temptation to become Jewish converts (which likely and unfortunately reveals a loss of our sense of the centrality of God’s covenant with the Jews more than anything else!). However, we do often hold out particular requirements for inclusion into the circle of “true believers.” “Real Catholics,” we are told (or we tell), would never do this or must do that. And what this or that entails turns out to be a narrow definition of what it is to be a part of some Catholic clique rather than a faithful follower of Jesus. On the other hand, we might hold out another set of requirements for belonging that seems strangely similar to those in the pagan (or perhaps sometimes in our case the ‘Judeo-Christian’) culture around us: nationalism, nativism, capitalism, liberalism, corporatism, individualism, sexualization, consumerism, violence…
In either case, our horizon is limited by the world (the “cosmos”) and the way of the world ’s violence, whether forcing people into a particular religious mold or forcing people into a secular mold. Instead, Paul invites us to consider the horizon of the new creation made possible by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. For it is only in him and his faithfulness that we can discover what loyalty to God looks like.
It is by the faithfulness of Jesus that the peoples of the world will flourish and “the LORD’s power shall be known to his servants,” like newborns nursing with delight at the comfort of Jerusalem (Isa 66). It is by the faithfulness of Jesus that those sent out will proclaim the Good News, announcing peace, and causing even the demons to be subject (Luke 10). It is by the faithfulness of Jesus that the sea is changed into dry land that we might pass through tribulation and wilderness into the promised land.
So, when we are tempted to despair or build walls or scapegoat or enforce some regime of purity (we see this in reactions on political right and left on different issues), may we stop and listen to the Word of God. Remember the gift of faith, giving assent to God the revealer with our whole being (CCC #143). Let us be loyal to God in Jesus Christ!
Brothers and sisters:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.
Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God.
- Galatians 6:14-16
– Greg Walgenbach, Director of Life, Justice & Peace, Diocese of Orange