By Michael Fitzpatrick

A Reading from Galatians 2:11-21

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” 15We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.


I’m amazed by the parts of St. Paul’s letter that read as if they were written today. For example, how many of us in the United States have seen news reports about political leaders loosening up on prosecutions for illegal immigrants into the country, but who later, under political pressure, begin arguing for tighter borders and less leniency? Caught between opposing factions, they do their best to play both sides, and it’s hard to tell what they believe.

St. Paul confronts St. Peter for trying to appease “the circumcision group,” and he plainly accuses St. Peter for his hypocrisy and for “not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel.” However, St. Paul is not rebuking St. Peter for not picking the right faction. His argument here is not Judiazers vs. Gentile imitators. The issue is whether Peter was really living what he preached. Thus St. Paul goes into a detailed reminder that what we preach is justification by faith, not works. It’s not about being a good Jew or looking like a Gentile; these things are secondary. We consider our religious “policies” only according to the one truth of our common justification by faith in Christ. Who we impress on this earth, which factions tolerate us, will not justify us sinners.

The only identity which makes a difference within the context of eternity is whether, in the end, we are revealed to have faith in the Son of God, “who loved me and gave himself for me.” We can act authoritatively in the world only from this relational covenant to the one whose kingdom is not of this world. If we preach faith in this Jesus, then we commit to cutting off our dependence on earthly allegiances to factions. We would rather be unappealing to all human clans than to have Christ say to us, “I never knew you.”

Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.

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