14th Sunday in OT / C / 2019
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
I have been studying the writings of St. Paul from my earliest days in the seminary—listening to them in the liturgy, teaching them in the classroom, and preaching them at Mass.
That being said, I am the first to admit that St. Paul is difficult! As I sit in the presider’s chair and listen to St. Paul being proclaimed from the ambo, I look out at the congregation, and I wonder: "Does anyone really understand what this reading is all about?"
Well, I don’t preach St. Paul very often, but today I would like to walk us through the short second reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. It’s a beautiful passage—great rhetoric, great poetry, great theology. It has inspired people through the ages—and I hope it inspires us as well. So, let’s take a look.
Paul begins with these words: "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Those words are startling. They may not seem startling because we are so used to hearing them. But Paul meant them to capture our attention, and he does.
Put yourself in the place of a 1st century Roman. Don’t think about crosses in churches or around your neck. Think of crucifixion—bloody Calvary. Crucifixion was the worst torture and death that the Romans could come up with—and they were pretty creative at torture! It was "unspeakable"—and by that I don’t just mean "horrific." I mean you would never speak of it, let along boast of it.
And that’s what St. Paul does . . . he boasts. And why? Because through the cross, "the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." What does he mean by that?
First of all, when St. Paul speaks of "the world," he doesn’t mean the created world, all of which is good. The "world," for Paul, is the power of sin, oppression, division, hatred, cruelty—the very structures in our society that killed Jesus.
But what did God do? God vindicated him. God raised Jesus from the dead. God has full power over the sin and cruelty of the world. Nothing can keep Jesus in the tomb! For St. Paul, the Resurrection meant everything—freedom, a new life, new creation, a new world. The old world is gone—Paul is "dead" to this world of evil and sin. A new world has come.
In this new world St. Paul can say that "neither the circumcision nor the uncircumcision" mean anything.
That is almost as startling as boasting in the cross. Circumcision distinguished Jews from Gentiles—it identified one as a member of the God’s chosen people. No more. In fact, the old divisions are gone: "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female." So what’s left? St. Paul says, "A new creation." Only a new creation. All of us one body, the Body of Christ.
St. Paul concludes, "Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God." Peace and mercy—Paul’s wish for those of us who live in this new world—the "Israel of God," which is the Church.
In just a few verses St. Paul summarizes the drama and the mystery of the Christian faith: the crucified Christ, the glory of the Resurrection, boasting in the cross, becoming a new creation, peace and mercy—the Body of Christ. The Church.