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Reflections on the Gospel, Week before June 30

Galatians 5:1-25

5For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. 4You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. 7You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? 8Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. 10I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. 11But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!

13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.

19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

What I Am Learning:

This passage has been interpreted in ways that have caused a lot of pain - so much pain that I hesitate to even post it.

First, the word "flesh" here is NOT a reference to bodies or the creation. This text is not saying that bodies are bad. Nor is this text about sex being bad.

The word "flesh" is the Greek word  "sarx." There is another word for bodies, it is the word "soma."

Soma means bodies. The Greek word Sarx here is trying to talk about a worldview or a culture - in this case the bullying culture of the Roman Empire.

So go back and read the text again and this time replace the word "flesh" with the words "bullying culture."  Go ahead, I will wait for you to finish.

Now let's talk about the word "law." In this passage it refers to any cultural expectation by which we rank each other and ourselves. He does use it here to refer to the Jewish law, but that is not really the depth of what he is talking about.

Paul is saying that we all live by a set of expectations that our culture imposes on us. We internalize these expectations and judge ourselves by them, and judge others. We use these expectations to bully and rank one another. When this happens human community and human beings begin to break down. We become so afraid and status conscious that we start to act out in very destructive ways. This is why he lists off a lot of behaviors that are destructive to us and others. In other words, when we live in a domination or bullying culture, we can't live and we seek lots of addictions to distract us from just how horrible life like that is.

Paul's critique of some of his fellow Jewish-Christians is that they mistakenly use the Jewish laws with their expectations of people in the same way that the Romans used theirs.

In Christ we are freed from these expectations. We recognize that God loves and affirms and accepts and embraces our lives, our existence. We do not need to be skinny to fit into a culture that prizes being skinny. We do not need to be heavy in a culture that prizes being heavy. We do not need the approval of the larger culture, or any subculture. We have God's approval for our life.

And so we are free.

Paul is saying that the unconsciously needing to live up to a cultural standard is a form of slavery, and that if we substitute one cultural standard for another, we are still not free.

But Christ has made us free. In Christ, God rejected, was killed by and in the resurrection overcame the bullying culture. In Christ, God seeks to welcome the bullies and the bullied - and start a community of people who live in mutuality.

In this community we learn to respect each person, to entrust their future to them and God, to honor the autonomy of each person and to realize that we are all a part of a larger whole - that our actions do affect others and so we are responsible together for the kind of communities we make.

But since God has radically, that is at the very heart of our lives, affirmed and embraced us in Christ, we can ignore those who say "you have to jump this high" for God to love you.

When someone says that it is an invitation to slavery to a bullying culture.

Paul is not saying that bodies and/or sex is bad. He is saying that in Christ we are free from slavery to cultural expectations and to live out a life of love even when our culture does not approve.

I believe that in this freedom, many Christians have acted to support and affirm our LGBTQ members and friends. I applaud the emerging freedoms and respect and legal protection that our sisters and brothers are fighting for in the freedom of God's love.

1 thought on “Reflections on the Gospel, Week before June 30

  1. Gisela

    Thank you, Terry, for your reflection on this reading. It really helps me to understand it more clearly.

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