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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Today's Scripture Reading | Galatians 2:11–21

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. (NRSV)

It started really early in the church, this attempt by one faction to impose their beliefs and practices on others. I shouldn’t say it started here—it is something that has been present throughout history, in one form or another—but in a faith where the founder explicitly said to treat others as you would be treated, it’s particularly disappointing. I mean, unless someone really wants to be coerced and compelled to abandon their own beliefs and practices and follow those imposed by others. I suppose, if someone felt that way, they could reconcile their conduct with the teaching, but the likelihood of that motivation seems pretty slim, somehow. Would someone so convinced of their rightness really seek that kind of compulsion? I doubt it.

So here are some Christians of Jewish descent trying to compel Gentile Christians to observe Jewish ritual, saying in effect that they weren’t really Christians unless they did so, refusing to even eat with them. And Paul not only calls them out on it, he calls out those who go along out of fear, calling their actions hypocrisy. He’s pretty succinct: “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

These days we see a lot of compulsion in religion, the imposition of legalistic orthodoxies, the exclusion of people who hold other beliefs and other practices from general participation in society. It’s often done under the guise of “religious freedom,” this act of exclusion, the rationale apparently being allowed to shun others is the full expression of religion. It’s sad to see this done in the name of the one who said that there was one great commandment—to love one another.

Paul called those who would use their own legalism to beat others into line “false believers.” He called those who collaborated out of fear “hypocrites.” The question he posed then is still before us today and demands a daily answer.

Lord, please remind us that the Gospel of Love is not a cudgel and that its fulfillment is not found in collaborating with oppression. Help us to be strong, to show your love to all people. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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