In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
To-day's Epistle is not clear in every respect, and I think it is worth giving
some thought to it.
The first thing which Paul the Apostle, who had been a law-abiding, very strict
disciple of the Synagogue, underlines is that simply doing the things which the
Law commands does not save us, because salvation does not consist of being
righteous, being able to say before God, 'I have done all that Thou commandestТ,
but in entering into such communion with God that, again to use St. Paul's own
words, the Law should be within our hearts, within us, be our very nature. Just
being the doers of the Law may make us righteous in the sense that we will have
done all that was commanded, and yet it will only have brought us to the
frontier of life.
This is what he meant when in another place St. Paul says that the Law is like a
teacher. We know what the teacher is in our ordinary experience, it is someone
who takes us when we are small, who teaches us step by step until we are mature
enough to do without him and able to enter, in a mature and responsible way,
into life which is before us. Such was the Law of the Old Testament; by
disciplining the people of Israel, and beyond them all those who entered under
the Law, it prepared all of them to come to the threshold where they would take
full responsibility for life.
And then, Christ comes; Christ also gives us commandments, but they have another
quality. He Himself says that when you will have fulfilled all that I have told
Ч recognise, confess that you are still unworthy servants. Because it is not in
the doing but in the becoming, that lies the mystery of salvation, the mystery
of freedom and of the Gospel.
One of the ancient writers of Christendom says that there are three ways of
being obedient to God: one can obey His will for fear of punishment, one can
obey Him because one hopes for a reward, one may be a slave or a hireling. But
neither of these conditions makes us close to our Master. There is only one way
in which doing the will of God is a manner of communing with Him: it is the
attitude of a son who so loves, so reveres his Father that every word of His,
every bit of advice, every command, every example is for him a road to maturity,
a way of becoming truly himself, by becoming more than he is at any given
That is the way of the commands of Christ. He has brought us the law of freedom;
that is, we are no longer slaves or hirelings, we are called to be sons and
daughters of the Most-High. This is what Paul means when he says that Christ in
a sense does way with the commandments, the Law of the Old Testament. But He is
not a breaker of the Law, He does not sin against it Ч He transcends it by being
the Way, the Truth, the Life which opens before us when we have reached the
point when a guide, a human guide, a fallen guide is no longer enough.
What does Paul mean when he says that he does not live himself anymore Ч that it
is Christ Who lives in him? We all know something of it: when we revere someone,
when we love someone, we identify with the other person in thought, in heart, in
will, in his ways Ч not that we ape the other person, but we try to emulate him,
to be worthy of being like the other person. And this is what he means. He
discovered Christ as his God; he discovered Him as the teacher of life, of
eternal life that begins already on earth in those who discover Who Christ
really is, and who become His messengers on earth, a vanguard of the Kingdom,
people whom He sends to bring a message of liberation.
We know it also at times from examples in our life and in the life of others; I
remember a person who had come out of a concentration camp where danger of death
and continuous suffering was his lot; and he said to me СThe moment I was freed,
I realised that I was born again, that all I had been had died out in the camp,
that the new life I was given was a gift, and was not mine, it was God's, and I
had to live in such a way that God should live in me, act through me, that I
should be His eyes, and His ears, His compassion and His love, His truthТ. It
happens also to people who come to the brink of death, knowing that they are
about to die, for some inconceivable, humanly speaking reason, are healed; some
forget it, but some realise that if they are alive now, it is not by the power
of their natural life, it is not the continuation of their life of the past Ч it
is a new life which is given them, and that this new life must be lived on new
terms, on terms on which the previous one could not, or would not be lived.
Let us reflect on this, because we all repeat constantly in our litanies, 'Let
us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life to Christ, our GodТ.
Usually we think of it as though we were saying, 'Let us look to Him for safety,
let us put our lives in His care, let us abandon ourselves to Him counting on
Him to save us from all adversity' Ч this is not what it means; it means that
generously, courageously, whole-heartedly, by an act of will that transcends our
very will to do good and our proclivity towards evil, we say to Christ, 'I don't
want to live my life Ч I want to live Yours! I do not want to live according to
my own standards Ч I want to live according to Yours!Т
This is what Paul perceived when he first met Christ and discovered that the One
he was out to persecute, to destroy, was in reality the Son of God become the
Son of man. Each of us should have realised this long ago, because we all were
baptised into Christ; over each of us was read the passage of the Epistle that
said that in Him we die, and in Him we rise again, that we die for everything
which is not worthy of our divine vocation; and now, in an act of will and faith
that is of surrender and faithfulness, we intend to live the life of Christ so
that Christ's life should pervade us, fill us, unfold itself in us, that we
should be, within the limits of our faith, of our faithfulness and courage, His
presence and a revelation of Him.
Let us reflect again and again on this confusing passage of the Epistle to the
Galatians, to see where we belong; and if we do not belong where our Christian
vocation calls us to be Ч let us make a decision, take ourselves in hand, and
put our whole selves into the hands of God. Amen.