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Speaking to the Soul: When Paul Went Rogue

Speaking to the Soul: When Paul Went Rogue

Week of Proper 4, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 41, 52 (morning) // 44 (evening)

Ecclesiastes 2:1-15

Galatians 1:1-17

Matthew 13:44-52

At first glance, Paul’s insistence on the divine origins of his gospel seems like a good thing. Why would we want to listen to a mere human being when we could listen to God more directly? In today’s second reading, Paul declares that he has been sent not “by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” The gospel he preaches is “not of a human origin,” nor from “a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

It’s not until the end of the passage that we realize why Paul severely downplays the importance of fellow human beings in his formation as a preacher and leader. He explains that when he was called, he “did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia . . .” Thus, Paul admits that he lacks a formal Christian education or apostolic references, but he wants to make this lack of training and credentials seem like an asset.

For the first three years after his conversion, Paul chose to go it alone. He didn’t confer or consult with anyone. He didn’t let anyone teach or commission him. He didn’t visit with the other apostles, but instead set out with what felt like a fully divine basis for his authority and message. He was dismissive of the Christians based in Jerusalem, and especially of leaders like Peter and James (as we’ll soon see).

It’s tempting at times to overplay the authority of Paul and to diminish the other Christian voices, past and present, that he overshadows. Of course, it’s also tempting to let some forms of tradition limit bold proclamations. May we remember, though, that the voice of God is very often filtered through human agents, whether or not the agents acknowledge as much. And yet, God still manages to speak.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as Priest Associate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with adult formation and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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