Monday of Sexagesima Sunday – Galatians 3:19-29

| January 31, 2016 | 0 Comments More

Students in a classroomMonday of Sexagesima Sunday – Galatians 3:19-29

I love the considerable time I’ve spent teaching children.  I remember that one of the memories that motivated me to become a teacher was an experience in tutoring that I had in 4th grade.  There was a kid in my class named Ulitt Johnson, and the teacher had assigned me to go during the school day into a separate room and tutor him in math.  I remember the good feeling I had as I helped him to discover how to do certain math problems and as I led him to new math truths.

St. Paul talks this morning about a tutor, but an unusual one at that: the Law.  He spends a lot of time making sure that the Galatians and his readers throughout the ages don’t make the mistake of thinking that they can be saved by keeping the Law, for the Law could never save.  It has erroneously appeared to certain Christians that the Law is therefore a negative thing, but this is not what Paul says.  You cannot be saved by Fr. Charles writing Give Us This Day every day, and not even by your reading of it.  Does that make Give Us This Day a bad thing?

Paul likens the purpose of the Law to that of a tutor, of a school teacher who is to teach us about Christ and about faith in Him.  I wrote recently about the need to have as many reminders of Christ in our lives as possible, as many pictures of Him so that we will never forget Him but will remember Him moment by moment and day by day.  The Law is one of those wonderful reminders and teachers of Christ, as long as we don’t confuse it with Him.

I believe there are at least 2 excellent ways in which the Law acts to teach us about the most important thing in the world: God in the world through Jesus Christ.

First, the Law, though it is not God Himself, is a reflection of His holy character.  The Law is not a bad thing but is like a mirror that faithfully shows us bad things: ourselves without God.  Consider that each of the 613 laws of the Old Testament Mosaic covenant is related to one of 2 things: love of God or love of neighbor (and the 2 go together).  This love that is at the center of the Law is a reflection of the loving Law-giver.  How, then, can the Law be evil?

All of those boring levitical regulations are not merely indifferent, neutral, or even onerous things but were meant to teach Israel and us about the holiness of God.  And who could miss God’s holiness after such numerous and glorious teachers?  The Law also taught the Israelites about their relationships.  Through the Law, God the Creator was teaching about His creation and for what purposes He created it.  Sex, for example, was only created for a husband and wife, and not for any other relationship.

Even to this day, though we are not bound by the Old Testament Law in its entirety, we learn about the nature of our God every time we consider the Law, for behind the Law stands the loving, holy, just Lawgiver.

Second, the Law teaches us that we need to turn to Christ.  It doesn’t just teach or tutor us about God but also about ourselves.  It doesn’t just teach us about the God who is the Lawgiver but also motivates us and educates us in our absolute need for Him.  The Law says to us, “Keep me, and you will live,” but it shouts its loud corollary to us, “and you cannot keep me, and will die without God!”  Every time we hear the teaching of the Law and rightly consider it, we understand that we are not able or worthy to keep it.  And for that, we must die.

One of the problems with the Law teaching us is that we are often such poor students.  I’ve seen students get up and leave Professor Law’s classroom because they disagree with the teaching.  I’ve seen students stop their ears, and I’ve seen students sleep in class.  One of the favorite tricks of the students is to pretend that they understand and to make the teaching so simple that they believe they can actually keep it.  Here’s one way it works:

  1. Reduce the Law to the 10 Commandments.
  2. Reduce each Law to its limited, literal sense.
  3. For example, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image . . .” is easily kept because I haven’t physically fashioned a literal idol of any earthly substance.  Although I may have been angry, I haven’t literally murdered anyone, and although I’ve lusted, I haven’t technically committed adultery.

We know it’s a dangerous game, but we play it anyway (and it takes a great determination to blind oneself to miss that none of us can ever perfectly keep the 1st Commandment).  But this isn’t the Law’s fault but only another demonstration of our inability to keep the Law, that is, to please the Lawgiver on our own merits.

It’s at this point that the Law screams out to us not only that it is a reflection of the perfect character of God and our own inability to keep the Law (that is, to be perfect as God is perfect) but also that Jesus Christ is the only one who can perfectly keep the Law.  He is the only Hero who can take the sword out of the stone, the only one who can open the Seal, and the only one who can keep the Law for us.

How many times have you vowed not to commit a particular sin, only to find it impossible to keep that vow?  Or, after a long time, God has granted you a victory in one sin, only to see sin ooze out of seven other pores in your skin.  Despair sets in because even in Christ you can’t perfectly keep the Law.  At this point, the Law has done its job.  Notice how it may lead to despair, but its real goal is to lead you to Christ.  That is all the Law can do.

Once the Law has led you to Christ, its faithful work is done.  And now, where the Law grows weak and fails, faith in Jesus Christ takes over.  All of the Law you could not keep, Jesus Christ has perfectly kept for you.  All of the curses you deserved for every time you couldn’t keep the Law, Jesus Christ has taken upon Himself.

It is now that the work of Christ may begin in our lives.  The Law has shown us Christ and our need for Him, and now we must believe, if we want to avoid the curses of the Law and embrace the promised blessings of God.

Once we remember this good work, let us not go back, like the Galatians, to thinking that we can keep the Law for ourselves or that we are good enough by ourselves.  Rather than focusing on the Law and our many failures, let us seek Jesus Christ.  The one thing necessary is not the Law but Christ, and in finding Christ we keep the Law.  In having faith in the Lawgiver, we can keep the Law because He is in us and we in Him.

If you want to keep the Law and cover those many sins that have been plaguing you, don’t focus on the Law or on you and your breaking of it.  Keep your eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.  Come to Him, find Him, and unite yourself to Him, for He is the only way you will ever keep the Law.  He, and not the Law or your keeping of it, is your salvation.

For this reason Paul brings up baptism, the means by which we put on Christ and His righteousness.  Baptism is a picture of the cleansing of our sins or breaking of the Law; it is a picture of us taking off the Old sinful Man and putting on Jesus Christ who is our righteousness.  Baptism, then, is a picture, a sign and seal, of the gracious work that God has done in our life: it is not one more work of the Law which cannot save.

So, then, we should read, learn, mark, and inwardly digests God’s Law – so that we may feed upon Jesus Christ.

Prayer:  Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mer­cy: forgiving us those things whereof our cons­cience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son. our Lord.  Amen. 

Point for Meditation:  The next time you meditate on God’s Law or His commandments, take time to make sure that your experience with it leads you back to Jesus Christ and His righteousness. 

Resolution:  I resolve to give up trying to keep the Law myself and turn to Jesus Christ today in repentance and thanksgiving. 

© 2016 Fr. Charles Erlandson  

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