After glancing briefly at 2 Corinthians last Sunday, the Prayer Book now spends three Sundays with Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. We can expect to do some hard digging to work through the passages assigned for Trinity XIII, XIV, and XV.
In today's passage, from Galatians 3:16—22, Paul is arguing the point that since Abraham lived 430 years before Moses, the Covenant promise given to Abraham has right-of-way over the Law given by Moses. (Our attitude, which C. S. Lewis describes as “chronological snobbery,” is that Later is Better, which makes it hard for us to grasp Paul's point.)
Now what is the difference? The promise given to Abraham was unconditional. God promised Abraham the land of Palestine, inhabited by numerous descendants, who would be the source of universal blessing. This was an unbreakable covenant, with no stipulations or reservations, truly a sovereign arrangement springing from Grace Alone. The law given to Moses, on the other hand, was highly conditional, contingent on the perfect obedience of God's people.
Here we have a paradox, an apparent contradiction pointing to a deeper truth. We are compelled to ask what, or rather which, is God's relationship to us? Unconditional or conditional? One sided or two-sided? The paradox is resolved only when we notice that the unconditional promise was made long ago by God with Abraham and also with Abraham's “seed” (that is “offspring”), whom Paul plainly asserts to be Christ Himself. Abraham's child of promise, in the grand scheme of things, was not just little Isaac, but Christ Himself.
Christ obeyed the law perfectly, something none of Abraham's Israelite descendants had ever done, fulfilling all its demands and requirements in His sinless life, but moreover submitting to its curse and penalty as He took our place upon the cross. He inherited rightfully all the blessings of the covenant made with Abraham.
The selection ends on the same note on which it began, the word “promise.” In ordinary use, this term indicates something unreliable, worthless and empty. But the promises of God are always certain of fulfillment. In Jesus Christ God has promised us the full pardon of all our sins, a new life empowered by His resurrection and animated by His Spirit, the resurrection of our bodies at the end of the world, and eternal life in His new creation. These are God's covenant promises to all who believe in Jesus. LKW
The Gospel lesson provided for this Sunday consists of three fairly distinct units. Taking these in reverse order, we have before us (1) the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan, (2) a conversation of Jesus with a scholar of the Torah, and first of all (3) a beatitude given privately to the disciples, declaring the blessedness of "those who see and hear what you see and hear." Let us examine these components in that sequence.
As for the parable, we need to recall that the Samaritans (a mysterious people whose origins are somewhat unclear) were not always as kind as the one in this parable. They regularly harassed pilgrims en route to Jerusalem and on one occasion actually desecrated the Jewish temple during Passover, by throwing dead bones into it to pollute it. A "good" Samaritan was as improbable as a "good" thief, like the one who appears on Good Friday. The Gospel in its entirety consists of improbable things, like a Virgin Birth, or a Resurrection, things as unlikely as sinners becoming saints, or a holy God showing Himself as gracious to undeserving rebels.
Moving backward in the passage, please notice that Jesus' interlocutor was not a "lawyer" in the modern sense of an attorney, but a scholar of the first five books of the Old Testament. His modern equivalent would be a Scripture scholar. Although Jesus dealt with him with patience and kindness, it is important to remember that the man was not a disciple. But even so, he asked the supreme question: "Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Even an unbeliever can ask a worthwhile question. But sad to say, he cannot accept the answer. That is what makes him an unbeliever.
The Synoptic Gospels also give us a similar incident, with a person whom we call the "Rich Young Ruler" asking the same question. Jesus gave him the same answer, but with a further detail, "Come, follow me." The story ended tragically, "But when he heard these things, he went away sorrowful." The outcome of today's Gospel is not divulged. But "go and do thou likewise" sounds like an unobeyed commandment.
This encounter between Jesus and the learned gentleman, in which a sharp probing mind received far more information that it was possibly willing to reckon with, throws into perspective the words "Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see." Jesus was speaking of those who see HIM, God walking around in two feet. That beatitude was not uttered as a universal truth but privately, to disciples only. Reflecting on the passage in its entirety, do we see what Jesus was talking about? Are we ready for the commandment, "Go and do thou likewise"? LKW