Galatians 6:11-18; Luke 8:41-56

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Well, since I just preached about the raising of the widow’s only son a few weeks ago, and today we have the Gospel of the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead, I thought that we could tackle the Epistle reading from St. Paul to the Galatians. It’s not part of the point of this homily, but it is very interesting that St. Paul makes a point of mentioning at the beginning of this reading that he is writing with his own hand. Most of his letters were dictated to a scribe, but this particular section of this Epistle he thought important enough to take the pen and paper and write in his own hand. Why?

It was a particular concern of St. Paul’s how the early Church accepted Gentile converts. If you remember, he had that disagreement with St. Peter at the Apostolic Council, recorded in Acts, and the Council essentially ended up agreeing with St. Paul that the Gentile Christians did not first have to fulfill the commandments of the Jewish law before becoming Christians. But there continued in the Church to be a group who still wanted the Gentile converts to be circumcised and to keep the Jewish law. So this is what St. Paul addresses in the beginning of our Epistle reading.

He writes: “As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.” In other words, some of the Jewish Christians continue to be very concerned with fitting in. They want to continue to be accepted by their Jewish friends and relatives. By associating themselves with Gentiles, who were really hated by many of the Jews, these people were becoming even more outcasts to their community. First Christians, followers of this crucified prophet, and now associating and worshipping with Gentiles. St. Paul accuses them, saying that they are not willing to bear any persecution for Christ, and for this reason they want the Gentile converts to be circumcised.

St. Paul continues, “For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.” Circumcision was a matter of the law – so St. Paul very pointedly says that even those calling for the circumcision of the Gentiles, for the sake of the law, were not following the law themselves. They were using the law as an excuse to have the Gentiles circumcised, and to lessen the persecution that they were feeling from their fellow Jews. Really, they were using the law very much in the same way that the Pharisees used the law – to segment people out into certain acceptable groups, and to make actions the main judgment of what was going on in a person’s spiritual life. Again, they want the Gentile Christian converts to do something that makes them look better – so that they can boast in their flesh. “See, they are circumcised, they are like us…”

St. Paul then offers the corrective – “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” What the world thinks of me is irrelevant, I am crucified to the world, the only measure is Christ. This one verse of St. Paul says it all – for us as Christians, everything is about Christ. Our only boast, our only glory, our only strength and support, our salvation, all we have is the Incarnate God, our Lord Jesus Christ. In the ancient Byzantine Empire, the bishops of the Church had to carry the Gospel with them anywhere they went – this was because they had no other job but to proclaim Christ; He was all they had to cling to in life. [we see this in icons of hierarchs] Sometimes, in the Church, we get easily distracted, just like the Jewish Christians that St. Paul is addressing in this portion of his Epistle. We start thinking about all sorts of things – finances, programs, what other people are doing, canons and laws, even icons and services – and it’s very easy for us to lose sight of the fact that there is only one thing needful, and that is Jesus Christ. Everything we do in this Church, and in our lives as Christians, is for Christ. If we lose sight of this, if we forget that our only boast is the Cross of our Christ, then everything is lost for us.

In the last two verses I’ll touch on this morning, St. Paul continues by saying “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” Nothing has any meaning in Christ other than being made a new creation in Him. This is what St Paul means when he says that “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything.” We can follow the right canons, we can say the right words, we can own our icons and say our prayers and read our spiritual books – but unless we give ourselves over to Christ to be remade in His hands, like clay in the hands of a potter, then all of it is meaningless. We’re to be made a new creation in our Lord Jesus Christ – to have our hearts renewed by His life and His love. And as long as we walk according to this rule – to the rule of acquiring the life of Christ for our own – then St. Paul bestows his blessing, and numbers us with the Israel of God.

We have no boast but Christ our Lord, the Cross of Christ, and no other purpose in life than to draw near to Him, and to let Him reshape us in His image.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson