Wednesday, June 13, 2012 -- Week of Proper 5, Year Two
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Apologist and Writer, 1936
Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 971)
Psalms 72 (morning) // 119:73-96 (evening)
[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]
(note: yesterday I mistyped today's reading from Galatians. Yesterday's should have been Galatians 4:21-31)
In one of his most exemplary sentences, Paul exclaims, "the only thing that counts is faith working through love." (Galatians 5:6b)
We are at the core of Paul's teaching here. It starts with the mystery of the gift of God through Jesus -- the gift of acceptance, justification. We are offered a whole and right relationship with God. It is a gift. Pure gift. No strings attached whatsoever. You don't have to do anything to be offered the gift. No laws, no performance, no circumcision. All you need do is accept the gift. That's what faith is. The acceptance of the gift of acceptance.
"The only thing that counts is faith working through love." There is an alternative translation. "The only thing that counts is faith made effective through love." You have been lovingly accepted, therefore, love your neighbor -- live in love. For Paul, Christian ethics is acting upon the commandment to love.
First we are accepted and made free as a gift. Accept the gift in faith, says Paul, then make that free gift effective by living in love toward your neighbor. "For 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. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" Paul says, if there is anyone who compromises this gift by demanding the observance of laws and traditions outside the simple commandment of love, that person is the yeast that is corrupting the gospel. Such teaching is so damaging, Paul says, that he cries out in frustration, "I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!"
Well! That's how strongly Paul feels about those who would turn Christianity into a religion of behavior according to rules and conventions rather than a mysterious living relationship of love grounded in the abundant grace and gift of God.
One more warning. You may activate your faith by living in love, but that doesn't guarantee that you'll have a pleasant, effective or just life. The New Testament reminds us of that by the story of the cross and our invitation to pick up our cross and follow in the way of Jesus, the good and just One who was crucified.
And the ancient Teacher of Ecclesiastes gives voice to that warning today -- "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all." The teacher cites an example of a small city that is saved by the wisdom of one man, but that same man is forgotten later and his advice ignored. It is good to be wise, but don't expect people to pay attention to your wisdom.
Enjoy what you can, says the Teacher. Love, say Jesus and Paul. And be aware that there is much that corrupts and destroys the best we can do.