Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, ‘And to offsprings’, as of many; but it says, ‘And to your offspring’, that is, to one person, who is Christ. My point is this: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.
The early church in Galatia heard the Gospel through Paul, but they later came under the influence of other teaching which proposed that Christians should continue to follow the Jewish Law, including circumcision. Paul believed that this undermined the Gospel, but realised that his understanding required a very different interpretation of Scripture which did not have a great bank of scholarship to support of his views. So, in Galatians, he is trying to express the story of Covenant / Promise / Law from a different perspective.
In today’s passage, Paul points out that the promise to Abraham was made by faith before the Law came into being. This Promise was valid and was not nullified when the Law arrived. Paul goes on to argue the Law was a vehicle to reveal our need of God, but Jesus has shown that need is addressed by grace.
2000 years on in a dominantly gentile Church, it is hard for us now to imagine how bold and out on a limb Paul was in his Biblical, theological and cultural interpretation. Paul was compelled by his experience of Christ that the Realm of God was open to all without condition, if only we choose to accept it, trust it (trust God) and live in it. It was an outrageous idea. Does it sound too good to be true, outrageous to us today? Perhaps Paul offers us a challenge to look at our traditions and interpretations and ask where and how we have recreated Law, which Paul believed we were liberated from?
God is with us fulfilling the promises to Noah and to Abraham, accepting and working with us to bring abundant life to all. A free gift of grace, which comes with a warning that if we choose to follow Jesus’ way of love and justice, we, and the whole world, will gain more than we could imagine but will also lose everything as it is forged and transformed into the Realm of God.
Living God, Open our eyes to see your Realm in our midst Open our minds to interpret your Way in our context Open our hearts to express your Gospel with courage Open our lives to serve your Hope for all life. Today and everyday, Amen.
The Rev’d Fiona Bennett is Minister of Augustine United Church in Edinburgh