The Narrative Lectionary now moves from the narrative of Acts to a brief, three-week tour of the letters, specifically Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Although the letters don’t usually have much in the way of narratives in them, this week we have two short narrative episodes recounted by Paul. As common with letters, Galatians is an “occasional” letter, in that there was a specific purpose and occasion that prompted Paul to write. Understanding the occasion that prompted the letter can help us to understand its content.
Paul is upset with the “churches of Galatia” because he has heard that they have fallen in with the “wrong crowd” theologically, that the controversy between the traditionalists and innovators recounted in Acts 15 has spread to Asia Minor. The traditionalists (the “circumcision faction”) argue that before the Gentiles can become heirs to God’s promise, they need to become part of the covenantal people of Israel and observe the rite of circumcision (and the rest of the Torah). This runs counter to the teachings of Paul, who argues that all people, Jewish and Gentile, become heirs to the promise in the same way, through a relationship of trust with Jesus who comes to us without prerequisites. He writes to convince the Galatians to reject this narrow view that throws obstacles in the way of God’s love and to instead trust in the work that Jesus has done to firmly establish their relationship with God.
So, as a part of Paul’s argument, he tells a story. Stories are powerful influences in our lives. Our brains are hardwired to tell, hear, and learn from stories (check out Wired for Story by Lisa Cron for a fascinating look at this). So, in addition to more directly theological arguments, Paul tells part of his own story. He begins with the origin and authority of his understanding of the gospel, that he didn’t start out as a Gentile-loving, anything-goes, Torah-hating person, but exactly the opposite. He was more pharisaical than the other Pharisees. It wasn’t a logical argument that changed his view, but an experience of the risen Messiah that knocked him on his rear and turned his world upside down, a literal “come to Jesus” moment. Paul didn’t come up with the gospel he’s spreading, he got it directly from the Resurrected One himself. [You might notice that in this argument, those who oppose Paul’s teaching are opposing Jesus himself. Clever, eh?]
And, Paul continues, it wasn’t just him. Even Peter (aka Cephas) lives in the same gospel, thanks to his experience with Cornelius (Acts 10). But, even when the famous apostle Peter caves to peer pressure and gives the Gentile Christians the cold shoulder, the newbie Paul doesn’t back down. The gospel he received from Jesus is too important to worry about embarrassing Peter (or himself). So, he gives Peter a severe dressing-down.
Why does Paul write this portion of his story in a letter to the Galatians? For faith formation. Their faith, the relationship that God has with them (and they have with God), has been twisted out of shape by this wrong teaching and needs to be reformed. When our understanding of God’s love and promises gets twisted into a guilt-inducing, exclusive, self-righteous, individualistic parody of the gospel, then our faith is malformed and needs to be reformed. Listening to God’s story in the stories of the saints in Scripture, in history, and in our communities, can form our faith, so we can tell our own stories to others, stories based on the freeing, forgiving, inclusive, community-building love of God that transforms us into the people of God and transforms the world into the kingdom of God.
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
This week’s FREE resource is an intergenerational “Learning the Story” activity from our Living the Word: Cross+Generational Education product called “What’s on the Inside.” This activity can be adapted for use with young kids and adults, or (even better) all the generations together in a classroom or even in the worship service! The Living the Word: Cross+Generational Education curriculum provides weekly lessons following the Narrative Lectionary that encourages the different generations to teach and learn from each other in a classroom or other flexible educational setting.