The word of the day is “law.” We take it for granted that the Mosaic Law and its regulations and restrictions do not apply to us. But today, we reflect on why it no longer holds us captive. We learn that freedom from the law is not a generality. In Holy Baptism, each one is personally released from the bondage to the law and its judgement and given the grace of the Holy Spirit. Today, we learn to think sacramentally about our salvation. We realize that the water and oil of the Holy Mystery of Baptism and Chrismation are agents of grace by which we die to sin and rise to the freedom of the New Life of Christ in the Spirit.
In today’s reading of Galatians 2:11-16, St. Paul reports on an incident that provoked him to develop his theology of the cross. The apostle states that he confronted the apostle Peter for inconsistent conduct. Peter ate with the Gentiles in Antioch until some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem objected. Fearing their disapproval, the foremost disciple of Christ backed off, and even Paul’s co-worked Barnabas did the same.
Paul Charged that Peter was Contradictory and Hypocritical
Paul did not hold back but charged that Peter’s conduct was both contradictory and hypocritical. From a historical point of view, the larger inconsistency was at this time there were two parallel communions of Christians. One was the fellowship of the circumcised who kept the law of Moses. They even observed the dietary and social rules against eating with Gentiles. The other circle was the group of churches that Paul and others had started in the Roman Empire. This grouping had a mixture of Jewish Christians and Gentiles. And by the decision of the Jerusalem Council, these Gentiles were not circumcised nor bound to keep the Mosaic Law.
The issue that Paul discerned was whether the cross was the center of the Gospel. For he stated, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain (Galatians 2:21). One cannot have it both ways, as Paul teaches in Romans. One either depends on one’s own righteousness, or one depends on the righteousness of Christ. For the former, one must try one’s best to keep the law—and will fail. For the latter, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:3).
What the Law Could Not Do, God Did
Paul explains, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3a). Thus God “condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3b). Again, he writes that by the cross, God “… made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
It takes a sacramental understanding to grasp the relationship of the cross, grace, “works of the law,” and the believer. Paul writes, “For through the law, I died to the law so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19-20).
Being “crucified with Christ” means that we have died to the law and its condemnation. Therefore, they do not affect us. It cannot make us righteous before God. And it can no longer condemn us.
A Sacramental Death and Resurrection
We might ask, “We are alive, so when did we die?”. It happened when our old self” of slavery to the law and its judgment was drowned in the Holy Mystery (sacrament) of baptism. Paul writes, “As many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death. Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).n By the will of God, this is the understanding that defeated the party of Judaizers who insisted that the Gentiles keep the Mosaic Law. Baptism replaced circumcision. The work of Christ replaced the “works of the law.” The cross became the unrivaled way of salvation.