So, last Sunday we heard from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatians. It’s always a good practice to remember that we’re actually reading someone else’s two-thousand-year-old mail when we’re reading one of Paul’s letters. Even though they didn’t have FedEx back in those days, the New Testament is still basically half mail. So, Paul writes a letter to these Christians, saying: “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:23-29).
To understand a little bit more about what’s happening, it’s useful to know about some of the context surrounding the situation for the Galatians. The Jesus movement began in Judea, and so the earliest Christians were Jews. Jesus was a Jew. The twelve disciples were Jews. Paul was a Jew. But the Galatians weren’t. Here’s where things get tricky. The Galatians were Gentiles. The Galatians were in the curious position of being non-Jewish people who had adopted the Jewish messiah as their own. Now, Paul understood his calling as a mission to bring the message of Jesus to the gentiles, and his message had taken root in Galatia. But in the time that he had been away, some other apostles had come to Galatia, and, apparently, these folks had been teaching the Galatians that the men were required to be circumcised. When Paul gets word of this development, he goes a little ballistic. Seriously, if you’re ever bored, read the whole letter to the Galatians. It’s not that long, and it’s certainly not boring. Paul is mad. He’s so upset because he sees this attempt to force circumcision on the Galatians as a sort of reversal of the gospel. The logic of his thinking is like this: circumcision is a requirement of the Torah, the Old Testament law; so, if gentile Christians simply have to enter into the Old Covenant, then what the purpose of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection? Thus, the letter to the Galatians actually contains a massive historical development: Christians don’t have to be Jews. In fact, according to Paul, the great social distinctions of the ancient world were rendered mute by life together in Christ. The main identity markers that held differentials in status for Paul’s society, Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, all disappear. It’s a radical vision for the church. It’s a radical vision for humanity. And it’s a wonderful principle for us to remember. Our faith isn’t about building walls between people. Our faith is about tearing them down. We are all of the same value to God, regardless of what status society assigns us. We are loved beyond imagination.