Galatians 1:11-19; Luke 8:41-56; Isaiah 43:9-13
It is perhaps significant that in this ecclesial year we read during Divine Liturgy from the first chapter of Galatians twice in the space of two weeks. This happens because Galatians 1:11-19 is the passage appointed for St. James’ day, which happened to be on the Lord’s Day this year, and it is also appointed for Divine Liturgy this week. Paul’s “independent” words here are particularly dear to the Protestant communities, and become important, too, for scholars who try to understand St. Paul in his context. They may, however, be passed over in many parishes, because they are in some ways problematic, and because many of our parish fathers tend to emphasize the gospel reading. However, the repetition encourages us to concentrate upon them, and to see different aspects of what Paul says in Galatians 1, as we read it alongside different gospels.
Two weeks ago, we considered how the epistle, along with the gospel for that Sunday, demonstrate that God makes himself known to his people according to their different circumstances, needs, and callings. Today, when we look at the passage alongside the healing of a woman and a little girl, other marvels emerge. The passages are both about what is secret and what God reveals. As the troparion before the epistle reading puts it, these revelations encourage us to wonder at our God and praise him: “Sing praises to our God, sing praises! Clap your hands, all ye peoples!” Listen to the witness of the apostle Paul:
Brethren, I would have you know that the Gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people; so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when He Who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other Apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:11-19)
Notice how St. Paul contrasts his earlier dark understanding with the revelation of Christ Jesus. He says that he was “advancing in Judaism beyond many” and also that he was “zealous for the traditions of his fathers.” This is interesting: from one perspective, he was what we would call a “progressive” person, keen on establishing Pharisaism as the way forward for Judaism in that oppressive and eclectic age. Pharisees had discovered a way of honoring Torah and of honoring their God by making each home a little Temple. In the home, those who were not priests but who followed the Pharisaic way of life, treated each meal as a sacrifice, each personal prayer as an honor to God, equivalent to what was happening in the Temple. This was indeed an ‘advancement’ for Judaism, because it made the Jewish faith portable. Those far away from Jerusalem could not often engage in Temple sacrifice, but they could be scrupulous in their own homes, following every commandment and tradition associated with the commandment, and celebrating each home ritual with great dignity and precision. It was, indeed, only Pharisaism that survived out of all the forms of Judaism when the Jewish people were routed from Jerusalem and the Temple was finally destroyed—all the versions of Judaism that we know today spring from that branch. When the Temple fell, the priests no longer had a venue in which to practice the faith, but the Pharisees and scribes did— Torah became the center of the faith, amplified by dozens of traditional little regulations that made a hedge around the Torah so that it would not be broken. “Do not labor on the Sabbath,” for example, was precisely defined, so that a pious person would not come NEAR breaking that commandment.
This guarding of the Torah, and the stringent keeping of it in the Pmade for the advanced or progressive form of Judaism to which St. Paul adhered in ignorance. Paradoxically the Pharisees were also traditionalists, looking back to the laws and the rabbinic way of interpreting how they should be kept. Since the most serious laws involved circumcision, kosher foods and Sabbath, they also became boundary markers, obvious separation points between the Jews and others. As St. Paul explains in the letter to the Romans (chapters 9 and 10), it was his very fixation upon Torah as the center that prevented him from seeing what God was doing at that very time in Israel and in the world. He did not realize that Torah was NOT the center, and did not realize that the scrupulous keeping of Torah’s commandments—circumcision, kosher laws, and Sabbath—did not in itself lead to the heart of God. For God’s heart, God the Son, had come into the midst of Israel, and had come to make a path not only for Jews but for the Gentiles, who did not know the Law. Jesus was HIMSELF God’s Word; He was himself the very Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Pharisees like St. Paul had sought to find life in the Torah, and thus to establish their own righteousness. The Torah, however, was meant to point to the coming of the God-Man. They were staring so hard at the sign-post, living so long in its dark shade, that they could not see the coming of the Light. God’s gospel was hidden—indeed, as St. Paul says elsewhere, it was “veiled” from the eyes of those who concentrated upon Torah (2 Cor 3). But, with the revelation or “apocalypse” of Jesus, a new understanding comes to the apostles, including the exceptional St. Paul. He received an “apocalypse of Jesus Christ” concerning the gospel; at the same time, he says that God was pleased to reveal (literally, “to apocalypse”) his Son in the apostle. (Some read the sentence as saying “God was pleased to reveal his Son to me, but the most natural reading is “in me.” And that indeed matches what happened in St. Paul’s life: in 2 Corinthians we are told that he had marvelous visions, and one in particular that ended with a “thorn in the flesh,” which God left afflicting St. Paul, who in his weakness could show forth the suffering God-Man who died for our sake. St. Paul learned how God’s strength is made perfect in weakness, and so do we, as we look at the apostle’s life, as well as the life of other martyred saints, in whom the Father reveals, or unveils, the character of his Son. St. Paul, as he said, “bore” on his body “the marks of Jesus” (Gal. 6:17). So did James, the brother of the Lord, and the other apostles who were martyred.
St. Paul previously had the truth about God’s will for the world hidden from him, because of his unbalanced fixation upon the Torah. What was hidden, however, was made plain, as Christ revealed the Gospel to him, and revealed what kind of man Saul was to become. In his commentary on this portion*, St. John Chrysostom comments that we cannot know all the reasons why God delayed in illumining Saul, but that part of this had to do with the delivery of the gospel to the Gentiles. St. Paul is the one who sees the full truth, and who ultimately convinces the early Church not to require submission to circumcision or food laws as a condition for entering the family of God. God had done something astonishing in Jesus, something to which the nations now could attest, as he worked, by the apostles, in their midst. Isaiah 43:9-13, 18-19 gives us a picture of how God brings what is secret to light for our benefit:
Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled. Who among them can declare this, and show us former things? Let them bring out their witnesses, that they may be justified; or let them hear and say, “It is truth.”
“You are My witnesses,” says the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me.
I, even I, am the Lord, and besides Me there is no savior.
I have declared and saved, I have proclaimed, and there was no foreign god among you; therefore you are My witnesses,” says the Lord, “that I am God.
Indeed before the day was, I am He; and there is no one who can deliver out of My hand; I work, and who will reverse it?”…. “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
In the historical context, the prophet and the Lord are speaking to the Israelite people who have been taken into exile, and who are living among the nations, among pagans who worship idols. Because they have the political power, the pagans assume that their gods have helped them—but God reminds the people of Israel that he alone is God. Before their mind’s eye, he puts a picture in which he challenges the idol-worshippers to bring forth evidence of their “gods.” And they cannot. But the people of Israel can indeed witness to God’s salvation of them—from Egypt, from confusion, from the desert. And now he promises to do more—he promises to do a brand new thing, forging a way in the wilderness and irrigating the desert. Through the Servant of God—who is in fact, Jesus our Lord—God will bring about a whole new creation that embraces the confused pagans, and that fulfills the wildest dreams of Israel. The work that he will do is irreversible, for he is the God who existed before all time. He is the existing One. They will see the new thing spring forth, and will witness God’s action in their midst.
St. Paul was, of course, one of the most dramatic witnesses, turning from persecuting the Church to teaching and supporting her. He thought that the most important witness to God was an external thing, a written document, the Torah. But God dramatically taught him that the Servant, the Christ, the God-Man, had come into the very midst of this world. And, because of this intimate coming, the power of God was internally imparted to God’s people. The existing One was bringing new human beings into existence, alive men and women who could witness to God’s power and love not only with their words, but also by their lives.
The overturning quality of this inside work of God is poignantly pictured in our twin stories in the gospel reading, St. Luke 8:41-56:
At that time, there came to Jesus a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue; and falling at Jesus’ feet he besought Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying. As Jesus went, the people pressed round Him. And a woman, who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had spent all her living upon physicians, and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind Him, and touched the fringe of His garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched Me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the multitudes surround Thee and press upon Thee! And Thou sayest, ‘Who touched Me?’” But Jesus said, “Someone touched Me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from Me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before Him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed. And Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” While Jesus was still speaking, a man from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she shall be well.” And when Jesus came to the house, He permitted no one to enter with Him, except Peter and James and John, and the father and mother of the child. And all were weeping and bewailing her; but Jesus said, “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand Jesus called, saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned, and she got up at once; and Jesus directed that something should be given her to eat. And her parents were amazed; but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.
What an unlikely thing for God to do! To make himself vulnerable to an ordinary woman, who touched him for healing! To humbly travel to someone’s house to take a girl-child by the hand and raise her to new life. Twelve years is a long time to be ill—and God cared about that! But twelve years is a mere blip on the radar of human existence, and yet God cared also about a young person who had only reached that age. In our story we also see the theme of what is hidden, and what is made known: “the woman saw that she was not hidden” and she “declared in the presence of all the people” what had happened. And it is the opposite with the second story—the three inner apostles and the parents saw the miracle of resurrection, but were told to keep silent about it—at least for the time being. There is a time for hiding and a time for revealing. St. John Chrysostom, in his 31st homily on Matthew, talks about the same story told in that other gospel. He asks why it is that the Lord insisted on the ill woman making herself known. Her honesty, he says, puts an end to her guilty fear (for she had secretly touched the Master). It also makes her a manifestation to others, because when she explains what had happened, he can call her “daughter,” and show how her faith had taken hold of his power. No doubt, comments St. John, she thus became an example to the ruler of the synagogue, who was despairing of his daughter’s life at the same time that this woman was healed. “Faith had given her wings,” says St. John, and soon Jairus and his wife would have a similar time of joy. We might ask why Jesus told Jairus and his wife to be silent—clearly, the time would come when the apostles would share this story, for we have it in our gospels! It must be because the resurrection of the little girl only makes complete sense in the light of Jesus’ own resurrection. God had not come to do one-off acts of mercy—though he cares about each of us. He had come to turn around the direction of the entire world, to bring an end to death, and to begin a new creation.
It may be natural for us, on one level, to feel a distance between ourselves and these stories. St. John Chrysostom remarks on this, even many centuries ago. He recognizes that few of his people have seen miracles like that of the healing of the ill woman, or the raising of the little girl. Few of us, too, have seen a vision as did St. Paul, and been so dramatically taught the truth of God. But, remarks the Golden-mouthed preacher: YOU know about the resurrection. The woman and the little girl had not yet seen the resurrection of the LORD, and had no idea of all that the coming of Jesus would mean. And St. Paul did not know that his ministry to the Gentiles would bear such fruit—how the gospel would spread throughout all lands and language groups, so that the Church was truly catholic, or universally one. We have seen almost twenty centuries of God’s work since the resurrection of Jesus, and have billions of astonishing stories to add to those of the ill woman, Jairus’ daughter, and Saint Paul. We have seen God call his people from north, south, east and west, and we have seen him make saints of the most unlikely sinners. It may be difficult for us to always see his work in our own lives, but we can see his work up close in the lives of those who pray for us, and live with us, and speak his truth to us. We are his witnesses.
This week coming is a tense one for those who live in the States—even for Christians. We may be apprehensive, or uncertain regarding what we should do to help our divided and confused country. It is helpful for us to keep things in perspective. Saul the Pharisee thought that the Torah was the center— an answer to it all. The woman had directed all of her hope towards medicine and doctors—even the crude medicine of two millennia ago. Neither a book, nor human doctors, nor human politicians can take a central spot in our attentions, though all of these things have their place. We may not know what to do, maybe not even be (some of us) sure of our vote—but we do know that One to whom we may direct our prayers. He has revealed much to us already, and we can be sure that what is at this point hidden will be revealed. Let us, in this time of uncertainty, take stock of what we do know. Even more, let us rejoice in the One whom we know, because he has come in our midst and now intercedes, with all the saints, before the throne of the Father on our behalf. And let us give thanks:
“We, therefore, remembering… all the things that were done for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the session on the right hand, the second and glorious coming again…offer you also this spiritual worship.”